Policies are your business’ cultural documents. They are living documents and can be shaped by both legislative changes and business developments. Policies set out the do’s and don’ts as well as the consequences of what happens if the rules are not followed. Policies – and handbooks – should sit outside of the contract of employment. Covid-19 has disrupted life and business as we know it, meaning many employees are now working from home, on furlough or self-isolating. These new ways of working (or not working) are raising numerous questions for employers and require them to also review their policies and ensure they work for the business in the current climate.
What policies are affected?
Health and safety policies
Home working/remote working
On 25 July 2020, the Government announced that anyone returning to the UK from mainland Spain, the Balearic Islands and the Canary Islands from 26 July 2020 would have to self-isolate for two weeks. This announcement has caused frustration for employers and employees alike who previously believed they could return to the workplace immediately after their travels if they wished.
There is also a risk that the Government will impose self-quarantining rules for travellers returning from other countries.
So what is the problem?
The new self-quarantine rule creates a number of employment related problems to include:
In many cases, employees are unable to work from home;
Employers and employee plans may be significantly affected by the new rule, for example an employee would not be able to travel abroad for the employer as planned during the 2 week self-isolating period;
Employees are not entitled to statutory sick pay (“SSP”) if they are self-isolating after returning to the UK;
Some employers may not have the funds to pay an employee whilst they self-isolate, and other may not be willing to; and
There is a risk employees may take action such as raising a grievance as they are willing and able to work but are unable to.
So what can employers do?
As can be seen by the Government’s recent order on travellers returning from Spain, the Covid-19 pandemic is resulting in unprecedented decisions being made, with little notice and there is a serious risk that similar decisions may be made concerning return travellers from other countries. In order to prepare for this risk we recommend that employers prepare a foreign travel quarantine policy for its employees who are, or are planning on travelling abroad. As a minimum the policy should set out:
The policy has been prepared following the Government’s recent decision surrounding travellers returning from Spain;
That there is a real risk the Government may impose self-quarantine rules for travellers returning from other countries;
Whether the company has any of its own self-isolating rules for travellers returning from abroad;
Whether a plan must be agreed with the employee before he/she travels abroad in preparation for any self-quarantining that may be imposed;
Whether the Company would be willing to explore alternative duties for those employees whose normal role cannot be carried out remotely;
Setting out that there is no entitlement to SSP for those self-isolating due to recent foreign travel; and
Confirming whether the company will pay salary for those self-isolating following return from a foreign country, and at what rate.
By having such a policy employees will be better informed as to the risk they face in travelling abroad and it will help avoid or reduce the risk of problems arising when employees return from abroad.
Consistent with our policy when giving comment and advice on a non-specific basis, we cannot assume legal responsibility for the accuracy of any particular statement. In the case of specific problems we recommend that professional advice be sought.