Published 15th July 2020
Employees don’t get SSP when they self-isolate after travelling
As peoples’ lives start going back to normal, we’re seeing ever-increasing questions from our HR clients on what the rules are when people return from certain countries and have to self-isolate for 14 days.
In short, those employees are not eligible for SSP. The government guidance here is clear. This is undoubtedly to disincentivise people from travelling to those countries which might be “unsafe” during this pandemic but also where people choose to put themself in this position the government are making it clear that they will not reimburse companies for this.
So what are the options for employers?
This would involve members of staff using an extra two weeks’ equivalent of annual leave, having returned from their travels. This is a big reach for some employees and may exhaust their year’s entitlement so they may be reluctant to do so.
However, it would mean that those employees remain fully paid during their continued isolation. It would also lessen some employers’ ongoing concerns that employees are accruing large amounts of annual leave through this year due to lockdown and cancelled holidays throughout 2020.
This is a clear option for employers, as in some ways the extended isolation is a form of unauthorised or unprecedented leave for which there is no obligation to pay.
However; for employees, this may not be financially viable. That doesn’t mean it’s not possible, but it’s worth considering whether the unpaid leave might damage morale. This could be combined with a holiday to reach a happy medium.
Work from home
This is an obvious option where it’s possible, as employees can continue to be paid in full whilst in their isolation, as well as continuing to contribute to the workplace, rather than having extended time away from the business.
If those employees have already been furloughed before, then they could well be furloughed once again for the isolation period. This would mean employees would receive 80% of their salary. However, there is no obligation on employers to do this, it would be purely a goodwill gesture. Also, as the contributions from employers increase, they may be more reluctant to furlough.
Can employers ask employees not to travel?
This is still unclear, but it is likely that employers could request that employees don’t travel to certain countries for health and safety reasons. However, it would be worth thinking about why they are travelling- is it for family reasons? Is there a legitimate interest for the employer to involve themselves in the employee’s personal decisions? Arguably, where an employee is required in the workplace, that request would be much fairer than where employees could work from home on their return.
Either way, we would advise that employers make it clear to all employees, right now, that if they do travel, what the companies position in terms of pay and whether they can homework upon their return. There should be a clear company policy and statement on what is expected for employees including, perhaps, not travelling to certain countries in the first place or requiring employees to check with managers before they book any travel which requires isolation.
What if those employees later show symptoms or become unwell?
At this point, those employees should follow government guidance and perhaps will be required to isolate for longer than the 14 days. Where they are required to isolate for longer than the initial 14 days, they can get sick notes or isolation notes from 111, and will then be eligible for SSP.
Won’t the lack of SSP and may encourage employees to flaunt the self-isolation rules?
Yes, probably, and I am genuinely concerned that the lack of pay might discourage employees from following the isolation rules, rather than discouraging employees from travelling in the first place.
Employers should be doing everything they can to ensure their employees are following the rules. This might be as simple as not allowing members of staff into the workplace when you know they should isolating following travel. It might be tempting for employers to have more employees in and working, regardless of the rules, but that risks an outbreak in the workplace, or perhaps even a second wave.
As we move back towards “normality” employers are increasingly trying to find their feet with the new rules. We’re always here to support employers, and our HR packages on fixed monthly fees mean that we are always on hand to answer these kinds of questions as soon as they crop up, without having to worry about increasing costs. Please do get in touch with me at Alicia.firstname.lastname@example.org and I’d be happy to quote for our HR support or to answer one-off enquiries as they arise.
By Alicia Collinson