Updated 28 July 2020 (see foot of page)
Late last Saturday afternoon many people were taken by surprise by the introduction of 14-day quarantines for people entering the UK from Spain and its islands. When interviewed on Sunday morning, Foreign Secretary, Dominic Raab said that the possibility had arisen last Friday afternoon and the decision was made on the following afternoon. However, the possibility had been mentioned on Twitter from last Wednesday.
As well as causing a great deal of confusion for holidaymakers, those who are returning from Spain have an immediate and significant problem. The vast majority will not have booked another 14 days off work in order to comply with the quarantine requirement. The Government has said that it hopes that employers will be helpful in accommodating the need to quarantine but, significantly, there is no legal requirement for them to do so. Affected employees are not entitled to be paid for the time taken off work. Further, the Government guidance says that they are not entitled to statutory sick pay. As matters stand there are no plans to extend SSP to cover this scenario. In fact, under the law as it stands, employers could treat a post-holiday quarantine period as an unauthorised absence which could expose the employee to disciplinary action and, at least in theory, dismissal.
Faced with this situation, some might take the view that they should simply ignore the request to quarantine and go to work. However, unlike most of the instructions issued by the Government in connection with the COVID-19 crisis, the requirement to quarantine is mandatory rather than constituting “strong advice” and individuals could face a fine of £1000 and possible further action for failure to do so.
It is also worth noting that quarantine is not restricted to not going to work. Affected individuals should not leave home so that, for example, they should get others to do their shopping on their behalf.
Some will say that people who have chosen to take holidays abroad in “approved” countries have done so at their own risk and should bear the consequences. However, I think that most would have been entitled to assume that the Government gave the impression that travelling abroad, at least to the countries on the exempt list, was OK. In fact, one of those caught out by the sudden change is, ironically, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps.
Employees who have taken holidays while on furlough should not be particularly affected because their furlough will simply continue through the holiday and on their return, although they will have to stay at home.
What about those who have upcoming holidays in Spain and elsewhere? As far as the Spanish mainland is concerned, the Government has advised against all but essential travel. That means that those who do travel to the mainland for holidays will not be insured, as well as having to quarantine on their return The Spanish islands, including the Balearics and the Canary Islands are not included in the advice against non-essential travel but those travelling there will still be required to quarantine on return. Tui have cancelled all their holidays in Spain until 9 August, while Ryanair and Easyjet are maintaining full flight schedules. Jet 2 are making a stand by continuing to operate their full range of package holidays. This is a controversial stance taking into account the invalidity of holiday insurance for their customers holidaying in mainland Spain.
What about other countries? It has been widely reported that France, Germany and Spain are at risk of joining Spain in being subject to the quarantine restrictions. At the moment, the infection rates are, in broad terms, about half those in Spain but they are rising. It is worth noting that, across the board, the mortality rates in England (although not elsewhere in the UK) are higher than in any of these countries.
UPDATE – 28 July 2020
On Monday afternoon the Government announced that the guidance to avoid non-essential travel had been expanded to cover the Balearics and the Canary Islands as well as mainland Spain. Although it will not affect the insurance of tourists who are already there, it means that people going on holiday anywhere in Spain will be uninsured. As a result, it is surely only a matter of time before all package holidays and most flights are suspended.
There are widespread reports that the advice against non-essential travel will soon be extended to other European countries. Based on the rate of increase in reported infections, those most at risk of being added are Croatia, Belgium, France, Germany and Austria. On Wednesday morning one of the ministers in Angela Merkel’s Government said that the second wave of the virus has arrived in Germany.
Employers have started reacting to the quarantine requirements. The most common view is that those who are unable to work from home are to be placed on unpaid leave. This will surely be a massive disincentive to many who are planning to take holidays abroad in the coming weeks. In other cases, employees who need to be in their workplaces are being told that they cannot take holidays because they will be away from work for too long. From an employment law perspective, it is really important to have a clear policy about this, which is communicated to all staff as soon as possible. Then, people cannot reasonably complain if these policies are implemented.