The UK Government has enacted The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (Self-Isolation) (England) Regulations 2020, which came into force in England on 28 September 2020. Failure to comply with these regulations is a criminal offence, the penalty for which includes a fine of £1,000 for a first offence, with fines increasing up to £10,000 for subsequent breaches.
The new regulations place a legal requirement on employers and employees regarding the enforcement of self-isolation for individuals in England who test positive for coronavirus, or who have been identified as close contacts of someone who has tested positive for the virus. An employee who has been instructed to self-isolate must inform his or her employer (or agency, if the worker is an agency worker) of the obligation to self-isolate as soon as practicable. Failure to do this will amount to a criminal offence.
Once an employer is aware of an employee who has tested positive, it must not permit the employee to attend any place of work other than the place where the employee is self-isolating. (This does not apply if an employee is working from home.) Agencies must notify hirers of workers’ obligations to self-isolate.
An employee who is notified of the requirement to self-isolate whilst at the work premises must return home immediately as the period of self-isolation has commenced directly.
Valid forms of notification of the requirement to self-isolate are not specified in the regulations. The only form of notification that the regulations specifically exclude is the National Health Service’s (NHS) COVID-19 smartphone contact tracing app. Other than this, the regulations merely state that if an individual is notified that he or she—or someone with whom he or she has had recent close contact—has tested positive for coronavirus, the individual must self-isolate (usually for up to 14 days) in accordance with the regulations.
Additionally, the regulations do not specify how the employee should inform his or her employer of the obligation to self-isolate. A commonsense approach may be adopted and employers might need to accept that self-isolation could largely be self-certified, much like regular short-term sickness.
Ogletree Deakins will continue to monitor and report on developments with respect to the COVID-19 pandemic and will post updates in the firm’s Coronavirus (COVID-19) Resource Center as additional information becomes available. Important information for employers is also available via the firm’s webinar programs.