Q: What are the four steps for easing lockdown between March and June 2021?

The four steps for easing lockdown in England between March and June 2021 as announced by the Prime minister on 22 February are set out below. The government has also published guidance outlining dates for reopening businesses and venues in England.

Step One: March 2021

8 March
The government advice is that staff who can work from at home should continue to do so. No overseas travel is permitted unless there is a legally permitted reason. It is illegal to travel abroad for holidays and other leisure purposes. However, sectors such as education and care homes are affected by some easing of lockdown measures in March.

Other measures are as follows:

  • One person can meet one other person from another household outside for recreation, not just exercise. For example, a picnic or sitting on a bench with a coffee but not sports such as tennis or golf.
  • All schools and colleges in England will reopen and childcare including breakfast and after-school clubs can resume. All secondary and college pupils will be tested twice a week at school for the first two weeks, then testing will be undertaken at home. Secondary school pupils and staff in all schools will wear masks.
  • Care home residents may have one named visitor.
  • University students on practical courses can return but others will have to continue with online lessons to be reviewed over Easter.
29 March
The government advice continues to advise working remotely from home where possible and no overseas travel is permitted apart from necessary work subject to the quarantine restrictions. However, sectors including sports centres will see some further easing of lockdown measures. The general "Stay at Home" message is replaced with staying local where possible.
 
Other measures are as follows:
  • Two households or up to six people from different households can meet outside, including in private gardens.
  • Outdoor sports facilities may reopen, organised outdoor sports can take place for both children and adults.
Step Two: 12 April
The government advice appears to be that staff should  remain working remotely from home where possible. It appears no overseas travel for leisure is permitted but necessary business travel is allowed subject to the quarantine restrictions. The overall position on International travel will be reviewed by this date. Non-essential retail, including hairdressers and beauty salons may reopen. 
 
Other measures are as follows:
  • Indoor mixing of different households is still not allowed.
  • Outdoor hospitality can reopen, including pubs and restaurants - with the rule of six or a larger group from two households. People must be seated outside when ordering and eating or drinking.
  • Libraries, museums, zoos, theme parks and gyms can also open.
  • Self-catering holidays with your own household will be allowed.
  • Funerals of up to 30 people and weddings and wakes of up to 15 people.
Step Three: 17 May
The government advice appears to be that staff should remain working remotely from home where possible but that home working and the one-or two metre plus rule, and mandatory facemasks will be reviewed before June. Non-essential retail, including hairdressers and beauty salons may reopen from this date. A review of working from home is therefore awaited before step four. Advice on social distancing between family and friends will be updated no later than 17 May. Overseas travel for leisure is probably not permitted but this will be reviewed by 21 April, travel is allowed for necessary work.

Other measures are as follows:
  • Indoors, the rule of six or a larger group of up to two households applies. Outdoors, most social contact rules will be lifted, but gatherings of more than 30 will not be allowed.
  • Indoor hospitality including pubs, restaurants, cinemas, theatres, concert halls, children play areas, hotels, B&Bs, indoor exercise classes may reopen.
  • Testing will be used to support these openings of indoor and outdoor performances and sporting events. Indoor venues with a capacity of 1,000 people will be allowed. Outdoor performances and events are limited to maximum capacity of 4,000 people or must only be half full, or those for 10,000 people can only be a quarter full, whichever is lower.
  • Weddings, wedding receptions, wakes, funerals and christenings will be allowed with 30 people.
International travel for leisure will not resume until 17 May at the earliest following a review before 12 April, although some essential travel for work is currently allowed subject to quarantine requirements. The possibility of  COVID-19 vaccine or test certificates or evidence to enable mass events remains under consideration.
 
Step Four: 21 June
The government advice on working remotely from home where possible will be reviewed before this June date, together with the one-or two metre plus rule, and mandatory facemasks. The goal is that all legal limits on social contact will be removed by this date.
 
Nightclubs and large events such as festivals may resume with testing as a condition of entry with possible removal of restrictions on weddings.

Scotland, Wales, NI
There will be no tier systems across the UK; the rules set out above apply to the whole of England but different dates and rules will apply in the devolved parts of the UK.
 
Scotland
In Scotland the full route out of lockdown is outlined in the strategic framework update. There will be a return to the levels system when measures are eased, meaning different parts of the country could be under different rules.

On 22 February primary school children in years P1-P3, and senior pupils carrying out practical assignments returned to school. However, the First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has warned against booking Easter holidays, either at home or abroad.
 
Wales
In Wales there is also a minor easing of restrictions:
  • 22 February: children aged three to seven returned to school.
  • 1 March: probable resumption of weddings and civil ceremonies.
  • 15 March: older primary and secondary school pupils preparing for exams will probably return.
  • Mid-March: possible ending to the"stay-at-home" requirement.
Northern Ireland
In Northern Ireland the lockdown is extended:
  • 8 March: primary school children in years 1-3 will return. 
  • 18 March: review of current measures. 
  • 22 March: secondary school pupils in years 12-14 return.
  • 1 April: lockdown possible lockdown end date or easing date.
Employers should continue to carefully monitor the relevant websites for England, Scotland, Wales and NI for the latest advice.

Q: When will working from home end under the 'roadmap' out of lockdown?

Working from home for most sectors is not coming to an end as yet. Employers should note that the timetable and rules set out in the ‘roadmap’ for easing lockdown in England are still subject to review and it is essential to keep up to date with any further changes during the progressive easing of lockdown. The dates outlined in the roadmap are the earliest dates rules could be lifted. Information on the potential dates is also available in the guidance on reopening businesses and venues in England.

It remains difficult for employers in many sectors to plan for the spring to summer period and beyond. In particular the rules about working from home, the one-metre plus rule and mandatory facemasks remain in place and are being monitored and reviewed before 21 June. Working from home may end in May or in June when social distancing rules maybe relaxed, although this is currently speculative. 

Employers in some sectors such as education, retail, care, hospitality and hotels do have earlier dates to enable planning to take place, for other sectors remote working continues and the end date for this is as yet unconfirmed. 

Step 1: 29 March
People will no longer be legally required to stay at home but many of the lockdown restrictions remain in place. Guidance still states that people should continue to work from home where they can. People should continue to minimise travel wherever possible, and should not be staying away from home overnight. It is not be possible to meet people from other households indoors.

Step 2: 12 April
The Government continue to advise people to work from home where they can. The Global Travel Taskforce will report on 12 April with recommendations aimed at facilitating a return to international travel as soon as possible while still managing the risk from imported cases and variants. The Government will determine when international travel should resume, which will be no earlier than 17 May.

Step 3: 17 May
In Step 3 many sectors apart from the most high-risk will be able to reopen. It has not been confirmed that working from home advice will end during this time, but by May (ahead of Step 4) the Government will complete a review of social distancing measures and other long-term measures used to limit transmission. Depending on this review guidance on working from home may change together with the rules on 1m+ distancing, face masks and other measures. Staff should continue to work from home where they can until the review is complete. 

Step 4: 21 June
By this stage the Government hopes to be able to remove legal limits on social contact. If the data and reviews support this, it appears the working from home guidance may be removed, or perhaps placed at employer’s discretion by June.

In the meantime employers should continue working from home where possible, in keeping with government guidance, and considering the three tests outlined by the CIPD when planning any return to the workplace.


Q: What are the new quarantine rules?

The new quarantine and travel rules are complex and are reviewed regularly during the pandemic. The plan is to ease lockdown restrictions in England in four steps and employers should regularly check for up to date UK  Government advice.

People leaving the UK

Although lockdown easing begins in March 2021 everyone in England is still required to stay at home unless they have a ‘reasonable excuse’ for leaving. From 8 March, the stay at home restriction is amended to enable leaving home for recreation as well as exercise outdoors. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are also in lockdown and have their own travel rules, which differ slightly. 

These restrictions stop most national and international travel, other than for very specific, legally permitted reasons. These are the same as the reasonable excuses for domestic travel, including:

  • Work that cannot be done from home
  • Medical appointments
  • Educational reasons.
People leaving England must declare why they need to travel, which will be checked by carriers prior to departure.

People arriving in the UK

In addition to the lockdown restriction, additional rules state that a travel corridor closure order is in force. This means that the UK travel corridors, which have allowed arrivals from some countries to avoid quarantine, are now suspended.  

Everyone arriving in the UK will now have to quarantine and take two coronavirus tests while isolated.

All travellers

All travellers arriving in the UK (including by boat, train or plane) from other countries must fill in a passenger form before arrival, listing their contact details, departure country and their UK address. Travellers must show proof of a negative COVID-19 test, taken in the 72 hours before travelling, to be allowed entry. Border Force officials will undertake spot checks.  Even with a negative test anyone arriving in England then also has to self-isolate for 10 days. From 15 February, arrivals will also have to take a coronavirus test on days two and eight of quarantine, which they will have to pay for. If they test positive, they must self-isolate for a further 10 days.

This can be reduced to five days if they then pay to take another test (see below); if this is negative no further self-isolation is required.

At least the 10 day quarantine will apply, no matter which country the person has come from. However, arrivals from certain red list countries will have to undertake quarantine in a specified way (see below).

Test to release
Travellers from countries not on the red list can take a test on day five of their isolation. Anyone testing positive must then quarantine for 10 days. Those testing negative can stop isolating.

Anyone using the scheme also has to be tested on the eighth day. Passengers will be expected to use PCR tests which cost between £65 and £120, and results can be received in 24 to 48 hours. Given the requirement to be further tested, the cost, and any delay before obtaining results for most employers test to release will offer minimal advantages over a full 10 day isolation.

Red list travellers
Non-UK travellers

Travellers who have been in red-list countries in the 10 days before travelling are banned from entry.

Some travellers, including children under 11 and passengers from the Common Travel Area (the Republic of Ireland, Channel Islands, or the Isle of Man) are exempt.

UK travellers

From 15 February UK residents and Irish nationals arriving in England from red-list countries can only enter at five airports:

  • Heathrow
  • Gatwick
  • London City
  • Birmingham
  • Farnborough Airfield

The UK and Irish arrivals must then must quarantine in hotels selected by the government. People entering Scotland from any country by air will have to isolate in hotels. People travelling from red list countries to Wales and Northern Ireland must book and pay for quarantine in England, due to the arrival airports listed above and lack of direct international flights.

Households can quarantine together. Penalties are high including a prison sentence of up to 10 years for those who lie about having been in a banned country.

Accommodation is booked in advance and an hotel allocated automatically through the online booking system. Arrivals are escorted straight to their hotel where they must remain in the room for 10 nights although some hotels may allow them to exercise. Security guards accompany people if they go outside for exercise. 

Sanctions and costs
In England costs for red list arrivals to cover transport, tests, food and accommodation are:

  • passenger travelling alone cost £1,750 
  • additional adult or child over 12 cost £650
  • children aged five to 12 cost £325.
Those who break red list quarantine rules still have to pay to for the quarantine plus:
  • Arriving without an advance booking: fine of £4,000.
  • Failing to quarantine in a designated hotel: fine of £5,000 to £10,000.
  • Lying on their passenger locator form about having been in a country on the red list: prison sentence of up to 10 years.
  • Failure to undertake self-isolation at home in accordance with the rules, leads to fixed penalty notice of £1,000 for a first offence, increasing to £2,000 for a second offence.
  • Further repeat offences will attract penalties of £4,000 and then £10,000 for each repeat offence.
  • Failure to provide accurate passenger locator form details or failure to update details if the traveller needs to change locations where they continue self-isolation: fine of up to £3,200.
There is also a £1,000 fine for any international arrival who fails to take a mandatory coronavirus test, followed by a £2,000 fine for failing to take a second test, with quarantine automatically extended to 14 days.

Airlines can also be fined £2,000 for passengers arriving without a completed form and advance negative test.
 
Exemptions
  • Hauliers travelling from Portugal can travel to England without an hotel quarantine or presenting a negative test.
  • A small number of workers are exempt from quarantine, including pilots and some seasonal agricultural workers.
For details of the likely system once the travel corridor suspension is lifted see our FAQ on the likely quarantine rules (below). Employers should also keep up to date with the latest guidance on travel on the government website.

Q: What are the likely quarantine rules for international travel once lockdown period is lifted and are any employees exempt?

England has been under its third full national lockdown since 5 January 2021, with a gradual easing of restrictions between March and June 2021. Restrictions on international travel remain in place for the moment. At least until step 3 on 17 May any non-essential travel is not allowed. The position from mid-May onwards depends on the outcome of the taskforce referred to below.

People can only travel internationally and within the UK if they have a legally permitted reason to leave home such as needing to travel for essential work. 

In addition, from 18 January, all international passengers coming into the country need to show proof of a negative COVID test. From 15 February all British and Irish citizens and UK residents who arrive in England after being in a high-risk red list of countries have to quarantine in in government-sanctioned hotels for 10 days and pay for this hotel isolation.  For further detail of the rules applicable during both lockdown and the travel corridor suspension see our Q: What are the new quarantine rules? (above).

Employers who need to plan travel for later in the year should bear in mind that we do not know exactly which rules will be in force. The detail set out below assumes that some of the rules will be similar to those outlined previously. 

The rules in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland may differ slightly so employers should check the relevant websites for more information. Scotland continues to quarantine passengers from countries with a higher prevalence of COVID-19 than its own.

Possible future rules

The impact on travel is as yet unknown but unnecessary travel within the UK and internationally is likely to remain highly restricted to those with essential reasons to travel until at least 17 May. If hotels, bars and restaurants are going to be restricted to eating outside, then it seems likely that non-essential foreign travel will remain restricted. Government ministers have focussed on summer holiday breaks in Britain so non-essential foreign travel may remain off limits. However essential work travel may occur subject to a large number of restrictions. 

International travel

Generally, prior to the January lockdown, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office advised against all non-essential international travel, unless the destination was on a list of exempt countries and territories. Although this exempt list is suspended during lockdown, it may be reinstated when COVID levels reduce. 
 
Taskforce
The UK Government has set up a taskforce looking at a framework to allow vaccinated individuals to travel more freely internationally. Any scheme is likely to involve vaccination, testing and isolation but is dependent on the evidence on transmission and efficacy against new variants. 

The UK is also working with other countries and the World Health Organisation to adopt a clear international system for passengers and the travel industry, but this will take time to implement. The UK taskforce will report on 12 April, with recommendations about a return to international travel, but restrictions on such travel remain in place until at least the 17 May.

Points to consider
During the pandemic (both before and after May 2021) employers should have a very strong reason for any business travel, but especially for travel to a country that is not on the exempt list. Employers should always consider:
  • whether their business travel insurance policy would cover any proposed trips
  • the impact of the 10-day quarantine period when applicable, for any staff coming back into the UK (see below)
  • any restrictions in the countries to which the employees will be visiting.
Non-UK travellers who have been in 33 red-list countries in the 10 days before travelling are currently banned from entry. When those restrictions do lift, those arriving in the UK may still not be allowed to leave the place where they're staying for the first 10 days unless exempt countries are reinstated. The quarantine rules are reviewed regularly so employers should regularly check for up to date Government advice

Test to release

From 15 December 2020 a Test to Release for International Travel scheme has continued to apply. This enables people returning to England (the other parts of the UK do not operate a Test to Release scheme), who need to self-isolate, to take a COVID test with a private test provider to see if they can end their self-isolation early. If the test is positive, they must self-isolate for a further 10 days, starting from the day they took the test. For further details see the Q: What are the new quarantine rules? (above).

If the exempt list is reinstated people may not have to self-isolate on arrival in England if, during the last 10 days, they have only been somewhere on the travel corridor exempt list.

Passenger locator form

Upon arrival in the UK all people from other countries, and regions including UK residents and visitors must produce a completed passenger locator form. The on-line form should be completed before arrival and can be completed any time in 48 hours before scheduled arrival at the UK border. Failure to complete the form is a criminal offence. People arriving from Ireland, the Isle of Man or the Channel Islands and a small number of people with certain jobs don’t have to complete the form.

For further information on possible future systems see the travel corridors list for England, and the guidance for Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland.

Exemptions

In addition to the list of travel corridors which mean that people arriving in England from certain countries or territories do not have to quarantine certain individuals are exempt from the requirement to provide contact details and address data. This exemption includes diplomats and consular officials, defence personnel and certain contractors or officials working on essential border security. Frontier workers who live in the UK but are an employee or self-employed person who go to another country for work at least once a week are also exempt.

There is a long list of other exceptions for certain occupations including seasonal agricultural workers, certain health or care professionals, certain oil and gas workers, road hauliers, nuclear personnel, specialist aerospace engineers, people engaged in urgent or essential work on electronic communications networks. A full list of the exceptions can be accessed on the Government website in conjunction with the national lockdown rules.


Q: What happens if an employee contracts coronavirus? Do they still get full pay or sick pay?

If an employee contracts coronavirus, this should be treated in the same way as any other sickness absence in terms of payment. If the employer normally only pays statutory sick pay (SSP) during sickness absence, then this is what the employee should receive subject to meeting the qualifying criteria. Employees who are self-isolating in accordance with government advice are also eligible for SSP. The self-isolation must be for the reasons set out in the FAQ on sick pay during the pandemic (below).

SSP is not payable to those who are self-isolating after entering or returning to the UK who do not need to self-isolate for any other reason.

The SSP rules are further summarised in the FAQ on sick pay during the pandemic but employers who can afford to do so may also wish to apply some flexibility, especially if the employee has contracted the virus due to exposure at work, and may consider increasing payment from the SSP amount.

If a furloughed employee becomes sick, the employer can decide whether to keep them on furlough or switch to SSP. Employers with staff on furlough can continue to claim the percentage of salary through the furlough scheme. If the employee is moved onto SSP, the employer can no longer claim their salary through the furlough scheme but may be able to claim reimbursement for the SSP if the employer qualifies for this.


Q: How does the statutory sick pay (SSP) scheme operate during the coronavirus pandemic?

The Coronavirus Statutory Sick Pay Rebate Scheme reimburses SSP for employers with 250 employees or less for up to two weeks of SSP starting from the first day of sickness. Employers do not need to ask employees for a doctor’s fit note (also known as sick notes) before making a claim.

The scheme covers all types of employment contracts, including full and part-time employees, and employees on agency, flexible and zero-hour contracts. It applies to employees whose periods of sickness started on or after 13 March 2020 and who are unable to work because they:

  • have coronavirus
  • cannot work because they are self-isolating at home because someone they live with has symptoms or have received NHS test and trace or public health notification that they've been in contact with someone with coronavirus
  • have been advised to shield because they're clinically extremely vulnerable
  • have been notified by the NHS to self-isolate before surgery for up to 14 days.

For further details on employee eligibility, see the Q&A on which employees are entitled to SSP.  Employers who pay sick pay in excess of the current rate of SSP can only claim the SSP amount.

Requirements

Businesses with 250 employees or less can reclaim the SSP paid for sickness due to coronavirus. How do the statutory sick pay (SSP) and fit note schemes operate during the coronavirus pandemic? The employers must be claiming for an employee who is eligible for sick pay due to coronavirus and have:

  • a PAYE payroll scheme that started on or before 28 February 2020; and
  • fewer than 250 employees on 28 February 2020.

For connected companies and charities, the total combined number of PAYE employees must be fewer than 250 on the above date. Employers cannot reclaim SSP if employees are off sick for any other reason.

Statutory sick pay

The SSP scheme gives qualifying employees a weekly SSP payment. In order to qualify employees must be absent due to incapacity resulting from illness. The SSP regime has been adapted to extend eligibility to those who do not have symptoms of COVID-19 but, for example, are self-isolating due to NHS advice.

Normally SSP is not payable during the first three qualifying waiting sick days. HMRC has issued guidance on the coronavirus SSP rebate scheme which removes the normal three-day waiting period before SSP is payable if the incapacity for work is related to COVID-19. If an employee’s illness is not related to coronavirus, SSP is still only payable from the fourth day they are off work sick.

For example:

  • Someone is off sick with symptoms (which are later confirmed) will get SSP from the first day of sickness.
  • Employees who test negative for  COVID-19 within the first three days of self-isolation will not be entitled to SSP.
  • Someone sick for more than three days who ends up not having Coronavirus would get SSP but not for the first three waiting days.
  • Someone with at least four days of incapacity from work will be eligible for SSP (i.e.  the employee has self-isolated for at least four days).

Fit notes

Normally employees self-certify for seven-day absences and obtain GP’s fit notes (or sick notes) for longer absences. During the pandemic GP services are limited and the NHS advises that employees should not ask for fit notes due to coronavirus but can send employers an NHS online isolation note as evidence of illness.

To reclaim SSP employers do not therefore need a doctor’s fit note but can request either:

  • an isolation note if they are self-isolating and cannot work because of coronavirus, or
  • a ‘shielding note’ or a letter from their doctor or health authority advising them to shield because they’re at high risk of severe illness from coronavirus.

For further detail on fit notes, see our Q&A on whether employees need a medical certificate or fit note.

Company sick pay

Employers who pay company sick pay may be compelled under the scheme (or may choose) to provide enhanced sick pay. Employers need to revisit the scheme rules as employees may need to be symptomatic to meet definitions of illness. Employers may consider amending their sick policy to entitle employees to company sick pay even if they are asymptomatic to encourage them to comply with the law and government guidance. Employers can always choose to pay company sick pay or full pay to encourage employees to self-isolate. If employers operate SSP only for the 2020/2021 financial year this is £95.85 per week.

Other schemes

Some lower paid employees who have to self isolate and cannot work from home and are claiming certain benefits may be eligible for a one-off payment of £500 through the Test and Trace Support Payment scheme from the local authority. See our summary table of the different government support schemes for more information.

Records

Employers must keep records of all the SSPs they are claiming from HMRC for three years including:

  • the reason why an employee could not work
  • details of each period when they could not work, including start and end dates
  • details of the SSP qualifying days when the employee could not work
  • NI numbers of all employees who the employer has paid SSP.

Employees on sick leave or self-isolating in receipt of SSP can be furloughed afterwards. 

More information is available on the government website.


Q: Which employees isolating due to symptoms or exposure to COVID-19 are entitled to SSP?

Obviously, employees with symptoms which mean they are too unwell to come to work to be entitled to the employer’s usual SSP or company sick leave and pay. Even if the employee only has mild symptoms, under government guidance they must self-isolate for ten days at home and are entitled to SSP.

Self-isolation periods may be more than 10 days if there are the symptoms do not go away.

The SSP regulations have therefore been amended several times to extend entitlement to other employees with mild or no COVID-19 symptoms if they can’t work from home. The employees covered include those:

  • Self-isolating for 10 days with COVID-19 symptoms.
  • Self-isolating for 10 days due to living with someone with symptoms.
  • Notified to self-isolate by NHS Test and Trace unless they can work remotely.
  • Living with someone who has symptoms or tested positive for COVID-19.
  • In a support bubble* with someone who has symptoms or tested positive for COVID-19.
  • Unable to work from home and have written notification of a medical procedure in hospital who have been advised to self-isolate before admission. (Patients needing surgery may have to self-isolate for between 3 and 14 days before the operation depending on their doctor’s advice. Any testing for COVID-19 before admission and whether patient is at higher risk due to pre-existing health conditions will affect the length of self-isolation before admission.)
  • Who are clinically extremely vulnerable and have shielding notification letter because of being at very high risk of severe illness from coronavirus and live or work in an area with local or national restrictions (see below for more on shielding).
  • Officially notified by a local authority contact tracing team and told to self-isolate for 10 days because they have been in close contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19.

*note that support bubbles or linked or extended households vary across the UK. A linked household in England and an extended household in Scotland are for single adults and single parents with children under 18 who link together with another household. In Wales extended households are two households that have agreed to be treated as one.

Clinically extremely vulnerable (CEV): Those identified as clinically extremely vulnerable (CEV) to coronavirus were advised on 5 December to stay at home and avoid attending work, school, college or university. They should limit the time spent outside the home and only go out for medical appointments, exercise or if it is essential. If they cannot work from home, they must not attend work and will be eligible for SSP. When shielding was previously paused at the beginning of August any entitlement to SSP ended. With the further lockdowns shielding has begun again and previous shielding notification letters should have been updated for employers to use as evidence for SSP purposes.

CEV people are still advised to follow shielding guidance, limiting time outside the home to exercise and attending medical appointments only. However, by the time Step 1 of the programme to ease lockdown begins in March 2021 those aged 70 and over and the clinically extremely vulnerable should have received protection from their first dose of the vaccine. By the time they have received their second dose the UK Government anticipates that it will no longer be necessary to advise shielding beyond the end of March 2021. Although this group has been prioritised for vaccination the UK Government is considering the long-term support that may be needed, especially for those who cannot be vaccinated or do not receive a significant increase in immunity from the vaccine. Employers should check updates to Government advice to keep CEV people safe. There is separate advice for people who are CEV who live in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland.

Other clinically vulnerable people who are not classed as extremely vulnerable are still at higher risk from COVID-19 and have to minimise contact with others outside their household. However, if they are not extremely vulnerable they are not entitled to SSP unless told to self-isolate or they are sick. If they cannot work from home employers may be able be to leave these vulnerable employees on furlough or other options including paid or unpaid leave. 

Employees officially notified by NHS Test and Trace service or local authority contact tracing teams and told to self-isolate are entitled to SSP. The position is less clear regarding alerts from the NHS COVID-19 app notifying contact with someone who has Coronavirus, as this is not the same as self-isolation advice but SSP is probably not payable. 

SSP is definitely not payable if the employer’s own tracing system warns there has been contact with someone with Coronavirus.

Dates: The main ‘qualifying day’ off work someone who lives someone with coronavirus symptoms or has tested positive for coronavirus is 13 March 2020. However other people became entitled to SSP on or after the following dates:

  • 16 April 2020 – for employees who were shielding under the system applicable at that time.
  • 28 May 2020 – for employees notified by the NHS or public health authorities that they’ve been in contact with someone with coronavirus.
  • 6 July 2020 – for those with someone in their support bubble (or extended household in Scotland or Wales) having symptoms or testing positive for coronavirus.
  • 26 August 2020 – for employees advised by a doctor or healthcare professional to self-isolate before going into hospital for surgery.

Q: Is there any financial support for individuals in areas with high incidence of COVID-19 who can’t work from home but are required to self-isolate by NHS Test and Trace?

Test and Trace support scheme

On 20 September 2020 a government press release confirmed a Test and Trace Support payment scheme paying £500 to both employed and self-employed people on low incomes who are required to self-isolate from 28 September. This is designed so that those on low income can self-isolate without breaking the rules and working away from home. The payments will not reduce any other benefits.

The scheme will therefore only support people who are asked to self-isolate by NHS Test and Trace.

The self-isolation days are measured either from the point the person first developed symptoms, or from when they were most recently in contact with the person who tested positive.

If the NHS COVID-19 app tells you to self-isolate because of close contact with someone who has tested positive, there are steps to follow to request your NHS Test and Trace Account ID.

Eligibility requirements for support payment

To be eligible for support payment the person must live in England and:

  • have been asked to self-isolate by NHS Test and Trace
  • cannot work from home and will lose income as a result
  • be claiming at least one of the following benefits: universal credit, working tax credit, income-related employment and support allowance, income-based jobseeker’s allowance, income support, pension credit or housing benefit.

Payments

In England, Test and Trace support payments are applied for through the local council. As well as the payment for those in receipt of the relevant benefits, there is also a £500 discretionary payment which may involve additional locally set criteria, which are down to the discretion of each local authority.

To apply, the relevant information and documents include:

  • proof of a positive test
  • the notification from NHS Test and Trace
  • Test and Trace account identification number (referred to as a CTAS number)
  • a bank statement
  • proof of employment or evidence of self-assessment returns for the self-employed, plus trading income and proof that the business delivers services that cannot be undertaken without social contact.

Enforcement

To ensure compliance, NHS Test and Trace call handlers will make regular contact with those self-isolating and report any suspicion of non-compliance to the local authority and police. In addition:

  • The police will check compliance in high incidence areas and in high-risk groups, based on local information.
  • High-profile and egregious cases of non-compliance will be prosecuted.
  • The police will act on reports from friends, neighbours and other third parties who report people who have tested positive and are not self-isolating.

Under the previous scheme, employed people had to show proof of employment, and self-employed people had to show both evidence of trading income and that they are unable to carry out their business activities without social contact. The local authority can liaise with Test and Trace to confirm the individual has been asked to self-isolate, check for fraud and ensure the individual is unable to work from home.

Fines

From the 28 September there is a legal obligation to self-isolate, with larger fines for those who break the self-isolation rules starting at £1,000. There are similar penalties for those who break quarantine after international travel. The fine can be up to £10,000 for repeat offences, which the government referred to as ‘the most egregious breaches’. The increased fines would apply to someone who prevents others from self-isolating. For example, any employers insisting that self-isolating staff still attend the workplace would have to pay this increased fine if reported.


Q: What happens if an employee needs to self-isolate?

In accordance with Government advice, if an employee has symptoms, however mild, or is in a household where someone has symptoms, they should self-isolate, as should everyone in their household. These people should not leave their house or go to work and employers should advise them to follow the Government's self-isolation advice and ask for a test. If a test is negative, then isolation is no longer required although the applicable national lockdown (or tier restrictions) will apply.

Testing and tracing

From 28 May, those in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland (and from 8 June in Wales) whose tests are positive will be contacted by the NHS test and trace service or local public health teams via a text, email or by phone. They will be asked to self-isolate for 10 days (members of their household will need to self-isolate as well) and asked for the contact details of anyone they’ve been in close proximity to and about places they have visited in the 28 hours prior to their symptoms becoming apparent. Anyone considered at risk of catching the virus will then be contacted and told to self-isolate for 10 days whether they have symptoms or not. The rest of their household does not have to self-isolate unless someone in the house becomes ill.

Testing and tracing is a public health measure, intended to inhibit the spread of the virus. It could potentially reveal hotspots where the infection rate is higher and once the national lockdown ends this information could lead to ‘local lockdowns’ to tackle flare-ups in towns, schools or workplaces.

(For more on lockdown arrangements in the devolved administrations, see Q: Are the lockdown rules different in Scotland, Ireland and Wales? in our Managing remote working and business closures FAQs.)

An NHS Covid-19 contact-tracing app will also (anonymously) alert users when they have been in close contact with someone identified as having been infected by the virus.

Sick pay

The Government announced measures which entitle employees who have coronavirus, or who cannot work because they are self-isolating to Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) from day one. This includes individuals who do not have symptoms, and those in the same household as others who display symptoms and are following government public health advice to self-isolate. The scheme has been extended to cover those instructed to self-isolate by the NHS test and trace service (see above).

The temporary legislation deems individuals who are self-isolating as incapable of work for the purposes of SSP. 

Coronavirus Statutory Sick Pay Rebate Scheme 

Employers with 250 employees or fewer can recover two weeks of SSP paid to employees for absences due to coronavirus from 13 March 2020 onwards. The scheme applies to both employees with coronavirus and those who cannot work because they are self-isolating. More information is available in our Q : Which employees isolating due to symptoms or exposure to COVID-19 are entitled to SSP? and on the Government website.

Employers do not need see an employee’s fit note to reclaim the payments. Employers who pay more than the current rate of SSP can only claim the current rate amount.

Refunds will be handled by HMRC.

Practical points

Even without the government advice, it is good practice for employers to treat self-isolation as sick leave and follow their usual sick pay policy (or agree for the time to be taken as holiday if the employee requests this). Employers could also advise employees to work from home if possible. Treating the employee as being on paid sick leave or as working from home is advisable and justified. It makes sense, otherwise concerns about lost pay could lead to potentially infected people coming into work.

CIPD also recommends that employers that offer contractual sick pay should provide this if a member of staff is asked to self-isolate by a medical professional or the test and trace service even if they have no symptoms. Alternative options to providing sick pay are to allow people who are asked to self-isolate to work from home wherever possible and continue to pay as normal.

Both employers and employees have general implied duties to look after all employees’ health and safety, including complying with self-isolation advice, otherwise workplace colleagues could be exposed to infection.


Q: One of our workers has been confirmed as having the virus, should we close the workplace?

During the January 2021 national lockdown, people must stay at home and many workplaces will be closed until at least June 2021 anyway. Employees should not leave home for work unless they cannot reasonably work from home. Those who work in critical national infrastructure, construction, or manufacturing may continue to attend workplace. The whole retail sector is scheduled to reopen no earlier than 12 April. Other employees, such as those in the public sector including childcare or education, can continue to go into work as can those working in other people’s homes such as nannies, cleaners or tradespeople.

Where a worker has the coronavirus the position is as follows:

  • A worker with a confirmed diagnosis should stay at home with immediate effect and employers should advise them to follow the Government's self-isolation advice and apply for a test

  • If a worker has symptoms, however mild, or is in a household where someone has symptoms, they should self-isolate, as should all in their household. These people should not leave their house or go to work and employers should advise them to follow the latest government advice and ask for a test. Under the test and trace system, they will be asked to disclose the places they have visited in the 48 hours prior to their symptoms starting, which may include their workplace.

Staff who were exposed to the infected colleague should be sent home. Government advice states those who have been in recent close contact with an infected person should self-isolate, breaking the transmission chain. 

For more information, see the NHS test and trace: workplace guidance.


Q: If an employee was asked to self-isolate or has Coronavirus, would it breach privacy to communicate this to the rest of the employees?

If an employee is asked to self-isolate or has Coronavirus this must be communicated to the rest of the employees and, if done correctly, will not give rise to privacy problems. An employer has both a duty of mutual trust and confidence towards all employees and a duty to take care of all employees’ health and safety.

Employers must keep staff informed about potential or confirmed COVID-19 cases amongst other staff. Data protection does not prevent employers honouring their duty to the health and safety of all employees or sharing data with authorities for public health purposes. There are special exemptions in the Data Protection Act 2018 which enable employers to share information where there are risks to the wider public – overall employers must take proportionate and sensible approach.

Under the Act, personal data concerning health is 'special category data' and requires more protection. You should avoid naming individuals if possible and you shout not provide more information than is necessary.

Now that testing and tracing systems are up and running (see Q: What happens if an employee needs to self-isolate? above), employees will be contacted in any case if they have been in close proximity to a colleague who has tested positive for Coronavirus.

Workers will be told to isolate because they have coronavirus symptoms and are awaiting a test result. Those who have actually tested positive, are a member of the same household as someone who has symptoms or has tested positive, or have been in close recent contact with someone who has tested positive will also be told to self-isolate and should receive a notification to self-isolate from NHS test and trace.

Employers who have managed to ensure adherence with social distancing rules in the workplace may find that colleagues of an employee who receives an alert from a contact tracer will not have been in ‘close contact’ with that employee and may not need to self-isolate. However employers should support employees who have been in close contact or are contacted by the service and required to immediately leave work and self-isolate at home.

Employees are more likely to trust the employer’s virus management plans if there is openness about infected persons in the workplace so employers should not try to prevent people finding out, although they may wish to instruct employees not to talk to the media about any cases. Instead employers, employees and the community as a whole need to work together to minimise the virus spread.

For further details see our test and trace FAQs on what happens if a large number of employees are contacted by the test and trace service.


Q: What should we do if part of our business is based in a sector which still has a high level of restriction or we are instructed to follow a local lockdown? What should we tell our staff about commuting, school closures etc?

On 4 January 2021, the Prime Minister announced a new lockdown for England from 5 January, and similar lockdowns apply in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. All staff must work from home where possible, but if not, they may travel to work, for example in the construction and manufacturing sectors.

In February 2021 the Prime Minister announced a four step plan for wasing national lockdown between March and June. For details see Q:  What are the four steps for easing lockdown between March and June 2021?

Some employers will be engaged in a sector which still has a high level of restriction with staff still working from home until May or June at the earliest. Employers and staff should comply with government advice, which in the short term is to work from home unless working in sectors where this is not possible.

Employers forced to close because of a high level of restriction should be able to re-furlough staff before the end of April 2021 and the furlough scheme may be further extended.

Tiers
The regional tier system that was in place last year is scrapped in England, with all changes being nationwide. However, in Scotland if all goes according to plan, the country will move back to a tier or level system from the last week in April.

Although the precise restrictions may vary, when restrictions are in place employers can tell staff that restrictions are likely to include:
  • Advising people in the relevant tiers to stay at home as much as they can; this will mean working from home where possible.
  • Schools may close between specified dates except to vulnerable children and children of key workers.
  • Staff who commute into restricted tiers should be advised against all but essential travel to, from and within the area.
  • Non-essential shops may need to close.
  • Bars, cafes, restaurants and hairdressers may need to close.
  • Entertainment and tourist venues may need to close.

Other points in high restriction areas:

As complete lockdown is being eased in four steps between March and April employers should keep up to date with the latest Government tier announcements and working safely guidance and put contingency plans in place to prepare for progressively relaxed restrictions.


Q: What do employers do if an employee goes on holiday to a country and a quarantine is imposed suddenly for those returning from that destination?

Once national lockdown ends, non-essential foreign travel is likely to remain off limits, as government ministers have focussed on summer holiday breaks in Britain.

The government taskforce is looking at a framework to allow vaccinated individuals to travel more freely internationally. This involves working with other countries and the World Health Organisation to adopt a clear international system for passengers and the travel industry, but this will take time to implement. The taskforce will report on 12 April, with recommendations about a return to international travel, but restrictions on travel remain in place until at least the 17 May. The devolved administrations who will have their own respective rules and regulations on travel in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales.  

Any scheme is likely to involve vaccination, testing and isolation but is dependent on the evidence on transmission and efficacy against new variants. Prior to the report the stages are as follows:

Step 1 (March 8 and 29)
Travel abroad for holidays is still not be permitted and, from 8 March, outbound travellers must provide their reason for travel on the Declaration to Travel form.

From 29 March people should continue to minimise travel including within the UK, and must not be staying away from home overnight at this stage.

Step 2 (no earlier than 12 April)
People should continue to work from home where they can and minimise domestic travel. International holidays are still prohibited. The Global Travel Taskforce will report on 12 April with recommendations aimed at facilitating a return to international travel while still managing the virus risk including any new variants.

Step 3 (no earlier than 17 May)
Depending on the taskforce report international travel review may resume, although it will certainly be no earlier than 17 May.

Step 4 (no earlier than 21 June) 

International travel may have resumed subject to quarantine, isolation  and vaccination requirements.

Once employees can take foreign holidays or are about to depart, if a quarantine is suddenly imposed for people returning from that destination, employers will need to be flexible and assist employees with following the quarantine requirements upon their return. Employees also need to be responsible and flexible; disputes may arise if some notice is given that a quarantine is imminent and the employee could perhaps have avoided the sudden quarantine by returning home promptly.

By way of example of a sudden quarantine, people returning from Spain to the UK at the end of July 2020 had to unexpectedly quarantine for two weeks when the Government removed Spain from the safe list of countries. Many employers and employees were completely unprepared for this decision. In the future more countries could similarly be removed from any travel safe list at short notice (as happened with Spain, Belgium and France and other countries' removal of the UK for example) - risking quarantine for travellers on their return. The priority for employers and employees is to co-operate with the requirement to stay at home to stop the spread of the virus. Employers can advise employees to build in some contingency planning so that, for example, they return home a few days before they are due back at work. This at least gives employers time to plan replacement cover if needed but of course employers cannot dictate how employees structure their holiday time.

The basic options for quarantined employees are:

  • Working from home if possible
  • Paid leave
  • Unpaid leave
  • Using annual leave

For further details on these options see the Q&A on handling quarantine periods (above).

Employees faced with a sudden quarantine period cannot claim SSP if they need to quarantine because of the trip. SSP may be payable if they have symptoms or are contacted by the track and trace service.


Q: How should we handle any quarantine period for employees who have been travelling to certain destinations? Can we insist they take the 10 days as annual leave?

During the January 2021 national lockdown, the Government has prohibited non-essential international travel, even to the countries and territories that are exempt. In addition, from Monday 18 January, all international passengers coming into the country need to show proof of a negative COVID test and non-UK travellers who have been to certain destinations in the 10 days before travelling are completely banned from entry. From 15 February UK residents and Irish nationals arriving in England from those destinations must also quarantine in hotels selected by the government.

However, once the lockdown is lifted and other measures are slowly eased employees will eventually be permitted to travel abroad for work or personal purposes more easily. This is likely to be no earlier than 17 May (depending upon a special Global Travel Taskforce will report in April). The detail set out below assumes that that rules similar to those applicable previously will return after lockdown ends.

Once the exempt list is reinstated unless the rules are changed, employees who re-enter the UK from any country not on the exempt list must self-isolate for 10 days even if they have only stopped in that country in transit. This rule will be reviewed regularly so employers should regularly check for up to date Government advice. Ideally employers should encourage employees who must travel to visit countries which do not require the 10-day quarantine period upon return. Employers should remember that decisions to impose a quarantine on travellers may be very sudden. A destination may be on a list of countries that the Government has said is safe to travel to, but then quarantine is imposed. For example, the decision on 25 July to take Spain off the safe-travel list was announced only the day before, and there have been similar announcements. Such decisions leave employers and employees with no time to plan ahead.

Employers must have open discussions with employees about holiday plans to countries where quarantine is required upon return and proposals for that quarantine period upon their return. This applies whether the quarantine was known in advance or imposed suddenly. Employers need to plan for the impact of any 10-day quarantine periods on employee’s work and the wider team.

Employers should:

  • Avoid business related travel at the present time. The red list countries especially should be avoided unless employers are prepared for employees to have extended absences to follow the hotel isolation rules on their return. When travel becomes easier after lockdown and other measures are eased, travel should still be limited to essential travel and should be to countries that permit visits from the UK and which are on the current travel corridor list assuming that it is reinstated. Some employers or work may be permitted or fall into an exempt category. See our Q above on the quarantine rules and exemptions.
  • Discuss the quarantine requirements with the employee before he/she goes away to ensure they understand the rules that apply in the country they are visiting and the rules that apply on their return. Employers should agree how the employee's return will be managed.
  • Be aware of any last-minute changes to quarantine rules and reassure employees that an agreed plan can be implemented.

Options

There are various options for employees who do visit countries overseas, these are a range of options based on the assumption that the very strict lockdown bans on national and international travel are eased as 2021 progresses. Potential options include:

Testing

A Test to Release for International Travel scheme applies to all those who need to self-isolate on arrival in England only. These people can choose to pay for a private COVID-19 test. If the result is negative, they can stop self-isolating as soon as they receive the result although they will only be able to return to work if this complies with the national or local lockdown rules or tiers in place at the time.

If the test is positive for COVID-19 the person will need to self-isolate for another 10 days counted from the day of the test, or the first symptoms if that is earlier. People in the same household should also self-isolate for 10 days from the date of the positive test. Further tests conducted by NHS Test and Trace are currently required  on days two and eight of the 10-day quarantine period, whether isolation is at home for arrivals from certain countries or in a hotel for arrivals from countries on the red list.

The extra test can only be taken five full days after the person left their destination which was not on the travel corridor list. If people are not on the Test to Release scheme they will need to self-isolate until 10 full days have passed. The key points of the system are:

  • All people must continue to self-isolate while awaiting the test result.
  • Travellers opt into the scheme on the passenger locator form and book a test with a private test provider before travel to England so they can enter details of the test on the passenger locator form.
  • The test provider sends a test to the traveller or they can attend a testing site.

Employees who decide to take part in the scheme after arrival in England need another passenger locator form.

The scheme gives employers little advantage because employees returning from somewhere not on the travel corridor list still must self-isolate on arrival in England. The earliest they can take the test is 5 full days after they were last in a place that is not on the travel corridor list. So in most cases this will be on the 5th full day of self-isolation, they must then take the test and get results. There is also currently a requirement for a test on day eight. So realistically a negative result may end up only reducing the isolation period slightly. The position is slightly more beneficial to employers if the employee has been in transit through a non-exempt country if that system is reintroduced.

Example: The government give this example. A person visits a country that is not on the travel corridor list. If they leave this non-exempt country and  spend two full days in a country that is on the travel corridor list ( an exempt country) then they can take their test earlier. So they could take a test on the third full day of self-isolation in England. This is because they have already spent two full days in an exempt country making a total of 5 full days.

Any inconclusive test result means self-isolation must continue for 10 days or until  another privately provided test produces a negative result.

Working from home

Allow the employee to work from home or in the quarantine hotel on their return for 10 days.

If the employee cannot work from home, then the position with respect to pay during the 10-day period is not clear. It is unlikely they can claim SSP (see below). 

Paid leave

In the absence of any government assistance employers may decide to simply keep paying the employee for remaining at home. This could either mean using up the employee's own annual leave (see below) or would effectively amount to granting additional paid time off work in addition to normal holiday leave. This option may be appropriate if home working is not an option and if the employer can afford to do this. This solution may be most appropriate if the quarantine was imposed suddenly so the employee thought the destination was in a safe travel corridor when they booked.

Unpaid leave

Employers could agree with employees that any quarantine period be taken as a period of unpaid leave if home working is not an option.

SSP during quarantine

Treating any quarantine period as sick leave is not really a viable option. Post travel quarantine is not a ground for claiming SSP.  Any individual self-isolating because they or someone in their household has Covid-19 symptoms may be  able to claim SSP. Additionally those on isolation under the test and trace scheme can claim SSP, but a post-holiday quarantine period is different. If an employee chooses to go on holiday, they have taken the risk and presumably knew of the requirement to quarantine upon return. The existing rules only enable claims for SSP if it is ‘known or reasonably suspected that the individual has been in contact with a case of, a relevant infection or contamination’. Returning from travelling does not necessarily lead to a reasonable suspicion of contact with someone infected with coronavirus.

If the employee begins to show symptoms at any point including any 10-day quarantine period then the usual rules and processes around sick leave and SSP apply (more information on coronavirus statutory sick pay can be found in the FAQs on managing employees who are self-isolating or who have symptoms).

Annual leave

Employers may wish to consider imposing travel restrictions if the 10-day quarantine period is known and will affect the employees' ability to work on return home. Employers can introduce a temporary policy across the workforce that anyone who travels overseas to a country subject to the 10-day quarantine must take that time as further annual or unpaid leave. This unilateral change in terms and conditions would amount to a breach of contract so employees could theoretically leave and claim constructive unfair dismissal. Ideally, they should agree to the change. The current official government advice lists using up annual leave as an option which does give employers some justification in enforcing such a rule. However, this approach is not without difficulty under current employment law.

In addition to the potential unfair dismissal risk for those who disagree, there is also a potential risk of a discrimination claim because those of certain nationalities who wish to visit relatives will be disproportionately affected, although the employer may be able to justify this. Many employees may accept the change rather than resigning in response and bringing a claim. However, there is at least a risk some will threaten proceedings.

If employees insist on travelling and refuse to use more annual leave during the quarantine period, then employers may face tribunal claims if they insist the employee’s extra 10-day absence is classed as holiday. There are rules enabling employers to specify when employees take leave but being quarantined at home is not the purpose of annual leave. 

Dismissal

Under the current government advice a potential further option is listed as dismissal, although this is then discounted as the advice says this should be a last resort and that employers should consider alternative arrangements first. These alternatives include those listed above, such as agreeing with employees to take annual leave or unpaid leave. Although the government advice lists dismissal as an option, it is extremely high risk option. Dismissal of an otherwise exemplary employee because they travelled to a country outside a safe corridor is likely to be unfair and may be discriminatory depending on the exact circumstances, the employee’s period of continuous service and their reasons for travel. Where possible, employers should explore the option for the employee to work from home or to agree a special project that can be completed from home.

Sanctions

For sanctions for breaching quarantine rules including fines of up to £10,000. See Q:  What are the new quarantine rules? (above)

Q: Can employers deny holiday to employees where it is known that they will have to quarantine on their return?

During the January 2021 national lockdown, non-essential international travel is mostly prohibited, even to the countries and territories that were previously exempt. However, once the lockdown is progressively lifted and travel restrictions start to ease (potentially from mid-May or June onwards) employees may attempt to travel on holiday despite quarantine rules being in place.

The best way to deal with proposed personal travel is for employees and employers to openly discuss travel plans and follow the latest Government guidance, including the requirement for a 10-day quarantine period either at home or in a hotel upon return to the UK when returning from certain destinations.

Employers can cancel any annual leave that has already been authorised, so long as the minimum notice is provided. The general notice period for taking leave is a period at least twice as long as the amount of leave the employee has requested (unless agreed otherwise). For example, employers need to give four week’s notice cancelling two week’s holiday.

If the employee has already booked a holiday, perhaps based on leave which was approved before the current travel restrictions were known, then the employer is causing financial loss to the employee. The safest course of action is to allow the employee to take their holiday but try and find work they can do at home upon return during the quarantine period, even if this is a special project.

Employers imposing future temporary travel restrictions

Employers could impose a temporary policy advising employees in advance not to travel to countries on certain lists or outside any travel corridors. However, enforcing this by dictating what an employee can do with their leisure time will not be a lawful and reasonable instruction from an employer in all situations. The employer can argue that they have a duty to take care of other staff which justifies the restriction. However, the employee may be going to a relatively safe destination or the country may not have been on a high risk list when it was booked.

Employers who ban future private travel, even temporarily, may disproportionately affect certain groups and this could be indirect race discrimination. However, employers may decide that their duty to protect other staff is worth taking the risk of a potential discrimination claim. Employers can defend indirect (but not direct) discrimination claims using the ‘proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim’ defence. The fairness of a travel ban for employees depends on the length, destination, the level of risk, the employee’s reason for wishing to travel, when the quarantine for that country was imposed and the overall situation at the time. An absolute ban may not be reasonable if the only downside is the employee having to self-isolate after returning.

If employers target certain staff specifically and request them not to travel or come to work this could lead to direct race discrimination claims. Any request to avoid travel and not attend work should apply to all staff regardless of nationality or ethnicity and be linked to potential exposure to the virus not racial origins.


Q: What are the differences between furlough, medical suspension, sickness absence and self-isolation?

There are numerous legal concepts involved in employers’ responses to the coronavirus threat. Most employers should be able to implement sensible plans assisted by open staff communication and co-operation. In some cases, where there may be a lack of consensus, the legal position may need to be explored further.

Furlough

State funded furlough payments are an entirely new concept in the UK workplace, introduced due to the pandemic. In essence employers can designate employees as a ‘furloughed worker’ where there is no work for them to do due to the coronavirus. The Government reimburse 80% of furloughed workers’ wages to a cap of £2,500 a month. The scheme has now been extended at least to April 2021. Further information is available in our Furlough FAQs.

Furlough is nothing to do with being sick but relates to downturns in employers’ businesses due to the pandemic. If employees are sick during the furlough period it appears that they can either remain on furlough or be placed onto statutory or contractual sick pay in the usual way and then back onto furlough pay unless normal working has resumed again by the time they recover.

The clinically especially vulnerable who are shielding in line with public health guidance can be placed on furlough if the employee agrees or SSP.

Suspension on medical grounds

This type of suspension does not cover the Coronavirus situation.

Suspension arises when an employer sends an employee home from work, usually on full pay. Most suspensions occur when employees are being investigated for misconduct and, more unusually, can be imposed for medical health or safety reasons, including during pregnancy to protect the employee.

The phrase 'suspension on medical grounds' is also used as a generic reference to an employer’s decision to suspend employees for medically related reasons to protect other staff. Provided this is brief and on full pay, the suspension is likely to be permissible (although strictly speaking it is not a statutory ‘medical suspension’). This is unlikely to arise in the current pandemic as the suspension should be on full pay and employers are more likely to furlough employees to obtain government support in paying their wages.

Suspension may arise if employees refuse to work from home, or do not follow precautions. There is an implied contractual duty to ensure health and safety of employees. Instructing an employee not to attend work on full pay is likely to be deemed reasonable if there are rational grounds such as trying to prevent the spread of the virus to non-infected employees to honour legal obligations to them.

Sickness absence

Broadly speaking, sickness absence from work is absence that is attributed to sickness by the employee and accepted as such by the employer. In the current Coronavirus context it appears that sickness absence will cover employees:

  • who test positive for the virus
  • with potential virus symptoms
  • who live with someone with symptoms or who tested positive
  • who are clinically extremely vulnerable, and
  • who self-isolate because they are following government advice or have been required to by the NHS test and tracing service. Employees can now also apply for online isolation notes.
  • with written notification of a medical procedure in hospital who have been advised to self-isolate before admission.

Employees who are clinically highly vulnerable, and those following government self-isolation advice, are therefore likely to be on sick leave even if they have no symptoms, depending on the circumstances.

Others may be included for example those in a support bubble with someone who has symptoms or tested positive for COVID-19 - see our Q&A on which employees are entitled to SSP.

Self-isolation

Self-isolation means staying at home and avoiding contact with other people in accordance with government advice. Employees with symptoms should apply for a test. Those who have been in close contact with a Coronavirus-infected person in the UK must self-isolate for 10 days to limit infection. From 15 June, those who have travelled abroad may be required to self-isolate for 10 days on their return to the UK (see our Q&As on quarantine, and the government website for more information).

The term 'self-isolation' is used generically and would also cover those doing so as a precaution following more distant contact with an infected person. Statutory sick pay (SSP) is payable to those with symptoms or who self-isolate on government advice. Following government legislation, this should now start on day one in Coronavirus cases rather than after the usual first three days. More information is available on the government website.


Q: Do employees need a fit note or a medical certificate?

Employees do not need the usual GP's medical certificate for most workplace absences related to coronavirus. This is to allow GPs to focus on patients. Medical evidence is not normally required for the first seven days of sickness (according to the law), ie employees can currently self-certify for the first seven days absence and do not need to get a note from a doctor or NHS 111. 

After seven days, it is up to employer to decide what evidence (if any) they require from the employee. This does not need to be fit note (Med 3 form) issued by a GP or other doctor. To claim SSP because of coronavirus employees will usually  provide an isolation note if unable to work because of the virus.

Employees who contract the virus or who are self-isolating for more than 7 days can apply for their isolation note (if required) through an online service from the NHS website or mobile phone app.

Alternative options include:

  • A doctor’s letter or shielding note from the health authority advising shielding because of very high risk of severe illness from coronavirus.
  • Notification from the NHS or public health authority to self-isolate because of contact with someone with coronavirus.
  • A letter confirming the date of procedure if you’ve been advised to self-isolate before going into hospital for surgery.

A ‘fit note’ (or sick note) will be needed for those off sick for another reason.

Online isolation notes are evidence of the need to self-isolate when someone is:

  • absent for more than ten days with symptoms of Covid-19
  • self-isolating for 10 days, in accordance with government advice due to a household or support bubble member with symptoms
  • in receipt of notification to self-isolate from the NHS test and trace service.

Some of these people may not be sick, so GPs cannot provide certificates for the purpose of illness anyway. If evidence is required by an employer, employees can obtain the online notification from the NHS website.

Employers are encouraged to use their discretion concerning the need for medical evidence and to be flexible with notes as an employee might not be able to obtain an isolation note straight away. More information is available on the Government website.


DISCLAIMER: The materials provided here are for general information purposes and do not constitute legal or other professional advice. While the information is considered to be true and correct at the date of publication, changes in circumstances may impact the accuracy and validity of the information. The CIPD is not responsible for any errors or omissions, or for any action or decision taken as a result of using the guidance. You should consult the government website for the very latest information or contact a professional adviser for legal or other advice where appropriate.


If you have other queries about COVID-19 not covered above, please contact the CIPD member employment law helpline on 03330 431 217 or visit the Community pages

We know that our members and customers are facing challenging times and we are here to help you. Due to a high number of calls we apologise that your wait time may be longer than usual. We appreciate your patience and will connect you to an expert adviser as soon as we can.

Explore our related content

Q and As

Coronavirus FAQs 

Answers to frequently asked questions to offer guidance in responding to the coronavirus disease, COVID-19

Read more
Top