Quarantine for corona virus

Good morning, While it's only a hypothetical question at this point of time, I'm curious to find out how should a medically recommended quarantine be treated in light of the recent outbreak. Obviously, once infection confirmed its recorded as sickness, but what's your point of view if test is negative but quarantine is recommended? Paid or unpaid leave, reduced 50% weekly pay? PPA time is only a small proportion for 14 days, working from home is not an option in most roles. (We currently don't buy into a sickness insurance scheme) Thank you
  • If they have been recommended by a medical professional to stay at home then its paid sickness for me. I cant see where 50% pay would come in. You can't actually insist that someone stays at home unpaid.
  • I think current medical guidance is saying quarantine is essential so I'm of the same view as Keith, it would be paid sickness.

    If you were to say it is an unpaid absence and the employee can't afford that so wants to come to work - would you let them? Thinking of it a different way perhaps helps you answer your question.
  • It becomes trickier when you take into account government advice to self-quarantine. It's advice from a medico-governmental authority but not an instruction. The decision to self-quarantine is based on the risk of exposure rather than on any displayed symptoms (because the n-coronavirus seems to have quite a long incubation period: a key part of its rapid spread).

    If someone isn't symptomatic but decides to stay at home following potential exposure, they are - in theory - performing a public good, but what's the obligation upon the employer?

    My immediate response would be to record it as unpaid absence initially, followed by a fuller review of information and advice to the relevant business authority as to whether it should be re-categorized as holiday, as extraordinary paid absence or as sickness absence.
  • In reply to Robey:

    Recording it as unpaid absence has to encourage people to attend work which is the wrong way round for me.N#Better to grant paid absence and remove if necessary then the other way round on this.
  • In reply to Keith:

    For once I am forced to disagree (in part) Keith: You most certainly CAN insist someone stays at home, but they must be paid, in full. :-)

    A Dr's opinion that the employee should absent themselves from work on medical grounds if sick should (in all cases) be respected as an absolute, but in the case of the advice relating to a risk of infection (i.e. of harm to others) there is a second, separate, imperative:

    Health and Safety.

    The '74 Act requires all the employer's operations to be safe "so far as is reasonably practicable;" therefore, because this is a statutory obligation (a duty of care) the employer must observe it as their primary obligation, so even if an employee is not "obviously" sick (and in fact even if a Dr says they are NOT sick), the employer can require them to stay at home, if they believe they present a risk (of infection or of any other sort) to themselves or others by being at work.

    So an employer can (and must, if the risk involved is assessed as significant) insist an employee remain at home, on H&S grounds. That would include someone placed under "advisory" quarantine. (Different rules apply if they are actually diagnosed with an infection).

    Which in this circumstance of "recommended" quarantine presents the difficulty that because the employee is not actually sick, they are not entitled to SSP. They could also potentially argue that the withholding of (full) pay, based on the employer's compliance with H&S, is nevertheless a breach of contract (as the employer is not offering work for them to do, for a reason which is not of their making and is not that they are "unfit to work").

    What is required is therefore that the Dr makes the quarantine advice formal, by issuing a fitness to work note clearly states the employee should not work for the required period, allowing the employer to treat the absence as medically advised to them (i.e. as unfitness, even if not actively "sick") and not just "advice" to the employee.

    On a more general issue in such cases, however: What sort of employer is it that penny-pinches about (at most) two weeks' "garden leave" when one of their people (and, by association, their close family) is threatened out of the blue with a highly contagious life-threatening illness?

    ...and what sort of message does that send to every other employee (and the company's customers and clients) about how it looks after its people when the wosit hits the spinning thing and their world stands on its head?


  • In reply to Keith:

    Keith said:
    You can't actually insist that someone stays at home unpaid.

    Indeed Peter I am not sure we disagree

  • In reply to Keith:

    On the "unpaid" issue, yes. :-)

    I was extrapolating to the potential confrontation of the employee insisting they were fit to work (and wanted to, rather than lose pay) and the employer having no "formal" advice from the Dr that they were not fit to do so.

    My point being (as I know you will realise but some readers might not) that H&S statutes permit employers to make the decision to suspend based on the  risk to other employees, and not simply to the affected employee's current state of health.

    P :-)

  • In reply to Peter:

    Indeed which is why paid time at home is route - as I say I think we agree
  • In reply to Keith:

    Good point, Keith. I'm treating it a bit like unfavourable weather conditions, for which you could make the same argument: the *safe* answer is to let people stay home on the default assumption that it'll be paid; but the commercial answer is more often the other way around.

    On a related note, though, HR professionals should be alert to ignorance and racism that appears to be bubbling up around people of Chinese heritage in the UK. I've already heard anecdotal evidence of businesses asking such people to not come to work because other workers are worried about working around them despite, in some cases, the individuals in question not having visited China for years!
  • In reply to Peter:

    That is precisely what I am doing, Peter.

    We have a number of Chinese staff who fairly frequently travel back for holidays. Anyone returning is being put on two weeks paid leave (not unpaid or sick leave) before they may return to the office.
  • In reply to Robey:

    @ Robey

    "If someone isn't symptomatic but decides to stay at home following potential exposure, they are - in theory - performing a public good, but what's the obligation upon the employer?"

    I think I already answered that one Robey. The H&S statutory duty of care says the employer cannot place other employees (or the public) at risk if they can "reasonably practicably" avoid doing so. Therefore if there is a risk of someone having been in contact with the virus then you are both entitled and obligated to exclude them from the workplace (in fact irrespective of medical advice), if in your assessment there is a risk).

    The difficulty being you are then in breach of contract because you are not offering them work to do, and to get paid for; so your obligation is to pay them the equivalent sum of "lost wages" (in fact, liquidated damages). There is no option to treat the absence as "unpaid".

    It is only if they have been specifically told by medical authority that they should quarantine themselves (not just "suggested" or "recommended" as a "maybe") that they can be considered "unfit to work" and paid SSP. In exactly the same way that someone casually told to "rest and relax more" by their GP is not "signed off" with "stress".

    The difference being that in that latter case an employee absenting themselves would taking time off without authority; however if the employer believes them to represent a risk to others (e.g. by being potentially infectious) or at risk themselves (in other cases) it is the employer's obligation to keep them off work, and so to pay them in full.

    So their willingness to come to work or not is also irrelevant: If they would present a risk  at work, then they cannot be permitted to work. :-)


  • Many thanks for all your replies.
  • Dear all

    I hope nobody minds if i jump on this post!

    Our management team have decided that, in the wake of the Coronavirus and advice to self-quarantine on return after visiting certain countries, they would like to find out from staff who has a holiday already booked to any of the affected countries in the immediate future. I've advised that when these individuals return from their holidays, they should follow Gov advice and self quarantine for the appropriate time and should be paid for this.

    I've now been asked whether we can refuse any future holiday requests (that are not yet booked) to any affected countries going forward until the risk subsides. We're a high risk environment as a School so have the safety of students as well as staff to think about. I'm aware that employers can refuse holiday requests but i wanted to see if anyone had an opinion on this in the context of refusal being because of the place you are travelling to, the potential risk you would pose on your return and the additional paid time off that would be needed on their return.

    Thank you!
  • In reply to Kayleigh :

    That's a very interesting question.....

    I think if someone has a holiday booked (or reason to book a holiday) to one of the affected countries there is no legitimate way to prevent them going, or legitimate reason to refuse the leave application (what they do on leave is their own business). On their own time, any risk they take is not the company's responsibility, so there is neither liability under H&S, nor authority to prevent them taking that risk, if they feel they must. (...or even don't care!)

    It seems the question you have been asked reflects a suspicion that someone might take a holiday to an affected country in order to then receive 14 days paid quarantine......! Forgive me if I find that Management thinking a little "tortuous" if not utterly barmy! Placing one's life at (potential) risk in order to sit at home unable to do anything but watch daytime TV and stroke the cat, in exchange for two weeks pay (given also the cost of getting to and from the affected country) is not a trade-off anyone with two working brain-cells would make (in my opinion).

    The necessities of the stipulated isolation post-travel, and the demands of H&S already explored earlier, seem to have indeed left employers "footing the bill" for the Government's advice, but I do not see this is either legitimately avoidable as the law stands, nor sufficient reason to seek to manipulate the system (unlawfully) in order to shift the burden onto employees who are (morally if not physically) forced to quarantine themselves to protect others. Sitting at home wondering if you are about to show symptoms of a fatal disease must be bad enough, without being made to pay for the privilege by your employer!

    Not on my watch.


  • In reply to Peter:

    Thanks Peter for your thoughts- i'll go back to them with this and see what they think.

    I don't think that is what the management fear will happen- they're absolutely fine with paying the 2 weeks quarantine for those who have booked/have unavoidable travel- it's just one of those things i suppose!

    They more just want to ensure the safety of our staff and students and wondered if they could refuse holiday in that instance- apologies if the way i phrased it made it sound like they were trying to be unreasonable! Certainly not the reality :)