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Detailed guide: If you need to self-isolate or cannot attend work due to coronavirus

Who this guidance is for

This guidance is for employers and their employees or workers who may not be able to go into work because:

  • they’re self-isolating
  • they’re clinically extremely vulnerable

It sets out the relevant legal framework around absence and the return to work.

People who may not be attending the workplace during the coronavirus pandemic include:

  • anyone with symptoms of COVID-19
  • anyone who’s received a positive test for coronavirus and needs to self-isolate
  • household contacts (including an extended or linked household, or support bubble) of people who have symptoms of coronavirus and are required to self-isolate
  • household contacts (including an extended or linked household, or support bubble) of people who have had a positive coronavirus test and are required to self-isolate
  • other contacts of people with coronavirus who have been advised to self-isolate by NHS Test and Trace, by their local authority, or because their employer has asked them to self-isolate due to someone in the workplace testing positive
  • anyone identified as clinically extremely vulnerable or at the highest risk of severe illness from coronavirus and has previously received a notification advising them to shield
  • people who must self-isolate having travelled to the UK – you may not have to self-isolate if you are travelling from somewhere on the travel corridor list or are doing a job that has a travel exemption

Find out more about self-isolation rules on the NHS website.

Asking your employee or worker to work somewhere other than where they’re self-isolating

It’s an offence for an employer to knowingly allow a person who is required to self-isolate to work anywhere other than where they are self-isolating (normally their home). This applies only when they’re required to self-isolate following a positive test, contacted by NHS Test and Trace or their local authority, or where they are required to quarantine after returning from abroad.

If an employer is reasonably believed to be in breach of this requirement, they may be issued with a Fixed Penalty Notice (FPN). The fine is:

  • £1,000 for a first FPN
  • £2,000 for a second FPN
  • £4,000 for a third FPN
  • £10,000 for a fourth and subsequent FPNs

Anyone who develops COVID-19 symptoms should stay at home and self-isolate immediately. Anyone who is due to work outside of the place where they are isolating during the self-isolation period must inform their employer if they’ve:

  • tested positive
  • been contacted by NHS Test and Trace or their local authority
  • returned from abroad and are required to quarantine

An individual can receive a fixed penalty notice of £50 for not doing so.

Statutory Sick Pay

Employees

Find out if you’re eligible for Statutory Sick Pay while you’re self-isolating.

Contact Acas if you have questions about your eligibility for Statutory Sick Pay.

Employers

Read the employer’s guide to Statutory Sick Pay.

Employees

If you are unable to do your job from home, you may ask your employer for annual leave to accommodate your period of self-isolation.

If your employer refuses an annual leave request, you may be able to agree a period of unpaid leave instead.

If you’re on sick leave or self-isolating because of coronavirus, you may want to speak to your employer about whether you are eligible for the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (furlough). You may be eligible for Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) while you are on sick leave or self-isolating. If you are put on furlough while on sick leave or self-isolating, you will no longer get sick pay but should be treated as any other furloughed employee.

You may also want to speak to your employer about whether you’re eligible for furlough if:

  • you’re at the highest risk of severe illness from coronavirus – also known as clinically extremely vulnerable – and are unable to work from home
  • you’re unable to work, including from home, due to caring responsibilities arising from coronavirus, such as caring for children who are at home as a result of school and childcare facilities closing, or caring for a vulnerable individual in your household

Find out more about:

Employers

If it is not possible to arrange alternative work that can be completed from home, you should try to accommodate periods of self-isolation by granting annual leave, or unpaid leave if that is not possible.

For anyone on the payroll before 30 October 2020, you may have the option to put them on furlough.

Employers can furlough employees who are clinically extremely vulnerable, at the highest risk of severe illness from coronavirus or off on long-term sick leave. It’s up to employers to decide whether to furlough these employees.

Find out more about which employees can be furloughed.

Dismissal

Employers

Dismissing an employee who cannot attend work due to coronavirus should be a last resort. You should consider alternative arrangements like facilitating working from home, or agreeing annual leave or unpaid leave.

Find out more about dismissing staff.

A dismissal can only be fair if:

An employment tribunal will consider all the relevant facts around a dismissal. This could include public health guidance regarding coronavirus (including guidance for clinically extremely vulnerable individuals), individual behaviour, the employer’s circumstances and any previous history between the employer and the employee.

In most cases employees must have worked for their employer for 2 years before they’re eligible to claim unfair dismissal. However, where an employee reasonably believes that attending work would create a serious and imminent danger to their health, or to the health of the person they live with, a dismissal based on that person failing to attend work might be considered automatically unfair. Among other things, this removes the condition that you must have worked for your employer for 2 years.

Dismissing an employee because they’ve followed guidance on self-isolation

Employers who dismiss an employee because they are, or have been, self-isolating, may be liable for unfair or automatically unfair dismissal. This will depend on all the circumstances of the case. For example:

  • it’s unlikely a short period of self-isolation (such as 2 weeks) would in itself make it reasonable to dismiss someone on the grounds the person is not capable of doing their job
  • it’s against the law for anyone who’s required to self-isolate to attend work, and for their employer to knowingly allow them attend work – this is likely to be relevant when deciding whether it was reasonable to dismiss them for not going into work
  • employees, including those who are clinically extremely vulnerable or live with someone who is, may have valid reasons to believe that attending work would create a serious and imminent danger to their health, or to the health of the person they live with – therefore it could be automatically unfair to dismiss them

An employee can be dismissed for legitimate reasons not related to self-isolation. There could be other factors which could support a dismissal being considered a fair dismissal. For example:

  • if they’re self-isolating after getting or being exposed to coronavirus as a result of breaching a legal prohibition
  • capability – if the self-isolation follows a lengthy absence from work where the employee has longer-term health issues preventing them from working

Find out more about dismissal due to illness.

Redundancy when someone’s clinically extremely vulnerable

Redundancy is a form of dismissal carried out when an employer needs to reduce or restructure their workforce.

An employee can be made redundant during or after a period in which they have been advised to shield. However, the redundancy must be fair. The employer must demonstrate that the employee’s job will no longer exist. Employers should always consult employees in a redundancy situation.

You can read:

Equality Act

Employers

Employers must make sure that the decisions they take in response to coronavirus do not directly or indirectly discriminate against employees on the grounds of a protected characteristic, for example sex, disability or race. This includes decisions in relation to self-isolation and those who are clinically extremely vulnerable, and the return to work. Employers also have obligations towards disabled workers and those who are new or expectant mothers.

For more information, see:

Returning safely to the workplace

Employees and employers should agree when and how an employee will return to the workplace after a period of self-isolation or being unable to attend work (including staying at home as a result of receiving a shielding notification).

Employers are encouraged not to disadvantage staff that return to work after self-isolating following public health guidance. This includes all aspects of fair treatment at work such as reasonable workload, access to training and promotion opportunities.

For detailed guidance, see:

More information on employment rights

Whether an individual qualifies for protection under employment law depends on a variety of factors, such as their employment status and the specific circumstances of the individual and employer.

Courts and tribunals will make final decisions on employment status as well as whether an employer has acted within the law or not.

Find out more about making a claim to a tribunal.

Employees and employers can get impartial advice from: