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Advice: Can I make staff returning from quarantined countries take unpaid leave?

Time 1 year ago

More and more countries are being added to the government’s quarantine list at the drop of a hat, causing anger, dismay and confusion.

It started with the sudden decision just over a fortnight ago to slap a 14-day quarantine on people returning to the UK from Spain as well as the Balearic and Canary Islands.

The Bahamas, Belgium, Andorra and Luxembourg  were subsequently added, and from tomorrow (Aug 15) people returning from France, the Netherlands, Malta, Monaco, Aruba, as well as Turks and Caicos will also have to self-isolate for a fortnight – a measure the government has said was needed to minimise the spread of coronavirus.


Those who don’t comply with the order face stiff financial penalties, which vary from country to country in the UK but can be up to £5,000 for persistent offenders.

How it affects pay and annual leave has been a hot topic, with one dealer group boss telling Car Dealer in July: ‘We’ve got a number of staff on holiday in Spain and have told them they’ll need to take unpaid leave when they come back or extra holiday.

‘We can’t afford to pay them for this time off and we’re already running with less staff.

‘While the quarantine rules are unavoidable, we can’t cope paying out for staff having more time off. It’s hard enough as it is at the moment.’

Those who don’t self-isolate face being fined up to £1,000 in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, while those going back to Scotland may be fined £480 – and up to £5,000 for persistent offenders.

But can staff be forced to take unpaid leave? Car Dealer has examined the contentious issue, including that of sick pay, and provides the answers, with the help of Lawgistics…

Kiril Moskovchuk, legal adviser at the consultancy, told Car Dealer that employees returning from Spain and its islands will have to self-isolate but they won’t be entitled to statutory sick pay unless they develop symptoms or have another reason to claim.

‘Technically, if they cannot work from home or another place where they are self-isolating, they will not be available for work, and it will be an unpaid leave,’ he said.

But there is a solution – sort of…

‘A better alternative will be to agree an extension of annual leave in advance to cover the required quarantine.

‘You may direct your employees to take annual leave to cover the quarantine period, subject to the usual notice requirement.

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‘Bear in mind that you can give notice when the employee is away on leave but you need to make sure the notice is communicated and read, so if your employee checks his emails on leave and responds, either accepting or opposing, this should be fine.’

This article was originally published on July 28 and updated since then, most recently on August 14.

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John Bowman's avatar

John has been with Car Dealer since 2013 after spending 25 years in the newspaper industry as a reporter then a sub-editor/assistant chief sub-editor on regional and national titles. John is chief sub-editor in the editorial department, working on Car Dealer, as well as handling social media.

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