Travel self-isolation exemption list and SSP

Individuals coming into the UK, bar a short list of exemptions, have been required to self-isolate for 14 days since 8 June 2020 due to the high cases of coronavirus reported globally. The list of exempt countries was published on 3 July 2020 with some having been added or removed since.

The list of countries on the list so far includes Barbados, Germany, Italy, and Japan, amongst others. However, this does not mean that, if coronavirus cases continue to rise in any of these countries, the Government will not consider removing said country from the list – as seen with Spain and France thus far. On 26 July, Spain and its islands were removed from the Government’s list of countries which do not require self-isolation upon return to the UK. This means that anyone who arrives from Spain (and its islands) to England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland will need to self-isolate for 14 days on their return. The same applied to France upon return to England.

As changes can be made to the exemption list at any time, employers may be faced, if not now but in the near future, with deciding how the additional two weeks’ absence from work will be managed. With that said, employers should be aware that the employee will have no recourse to Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) in this situation and it is therefore important that employers familiarise themselves with the difference in SSP treatment for this type of self-isolation when compared with others. For example, when an employee lives with someone who develops symptoms, this does attract SSP. Regardless, employers may wish to pay a rate equivalent to SSP to their employees, however, this will not be recoverable from the SSP Rebate Scheme for eligible employers.

On 14 August 2020, the Government outlined how employers should approach the situation where an employee must self-isolate upon their return to the UK from countries not on the up-to-date exemption list. This includes working from home during isolation periods where possible, which should ideally be discussed prior to travel, or considering telling employees to take the isolation period as annual leave, giving enough notice – notice should be twice as long as the leave they want the employee to take; or unpaid leave for family emergencies requiring travel.

Where employees are already abroad when the country they are visiting is removed from the exemption list, employers should expect their employees to get in touch as soon as possible to discuss viable options, especially as SSP is not payable in cases like this. Employers should be careful how they approach this issue as the guidance also warns that employers may be liable for unfair dismissal claims if they dismiss employees who have had to self-isolate (unexpectedly or otherwise). Although, tribunals will consider all the relevant facts around the dismissal before reaching a decision, including public health guidance on the coronavirus, the individual’s behaviour, circumstances of the employer, and history between the employer and employee.

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