Stricter self-isolation rules for employers announced

Dozens of Government regulations have been issued since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic but employers will want to pay careful attention to the latest set of regulations – the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (Self-Isolation) (England) Regulations 2020 (SI 2020/1045).

Since 28 September 2020, these Regulations impose self-isolation requirements on individuals who have a responsibility to self-isolate on regardless of the type of self-isolation it is – for example, when a person themself tests positive for coronavirus. They also amend previous rules on Fixed Penalty Notices confirming that a third breach of the Regulations may result in a £4000 fine, while the penalty for a fourth breach, and any subsequent breaches, is set at £10,000.

With regard to employment matters, these Regulations:

• prohibit an employer from allowing a worker to attend any place (except the place where they are required to self-isolate) for any purpose connected to the worker’s employment
• set out the prohibition on knowingly allowing a self-isolating worker or a self-isolating agency worker to be present anywhere for work purposes, other than the place where they are required to self-isolate
• require a self-isolating worker to inform their employer of the requirement on them to self-isolate; and
• require a self-isolating agency worker to inform either their employer, the agency, or the principal of the requirement on them to self-isolate. Whoever has received such a notification must pass the information on to the two other parties.

These new laws emphasise to employers that trying to prevent workers from following the rules around self-isolation will not be permitted. The severity of the penalty will undoubtedly depend upon the situation. For example, if employees are forced to come into work due to fears over losing their jobs, and therefore feel that they have been pressured into breaking the law, the employer would likely face a more serious sanction.

That said, if an employer was unaware of their employee’s need to self-isolate and has therefore asked them to come into work as normal, in this scenario, their honest mistake may not result in a penalty as they must ‘knowingly’ breach the law by allowing affected persons to still attend work. They would likely need to demonstrate that they could not reasonably have been made aware of the situation.

It is vital that employers communicate this new law to their staff and clearly outline how the company will manage a situation where they do need to self-isolate. Specifically, staff should know who they need to contact when they are told to self-isolate, and how this self-isolation period will impact upon their normal working arrangements. Given the serious nature of this requirement, it may even be advisable to inform staff that if they are told to self-isolate and do not inform management, they may be subject to disciplinary action.

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