What happens if I’m told to quarantine after returning from holiday?

Last updated: 25 Nov 2020

We advise members who are planning on an overseas holiday to discuss with their employer about what would happen if they are told to quarantine on return.

The government’s sudden decision on 26 July to impose a period of two-week quarantine for those arriving from Spain, has highlighted that unexpected quarantine rules can be introduced. Your legal rights in this situation are uncertain so we think the best advice is to discuss the issue with your manager before you go, and to check if there is any policy in place at your organisation.

We would hope that your employer would agree to you working from home for the period of quarantine, but there is no legal obligation on them to do so. Also, of course, many workers are not able to do their job from home. An employer could require you to take additional holiday or to take unpaid leave. You would not be eligible for Statutory Sick Pay in these circumstances. The employer may even threaten dismissal for an unauthorised absence.

A dismissal for failing to return to work after your holiday because of quarantine may be held to be an unfair dismissal, but it would all depend on the circumstances.

Firstly you usually need to have two years’ continuous employment to bring a claim for unfair dismissal (one year if you are in Northern Ireland). So employees with less than two years’ service are in a more vulnerable position.

But even if you have more than two years’ service, you would not be certain to win a claim. It is likely to depend on a range of factors, such as:

  • whether you should have realised the risk of quarantine before leaving
  • if you discussed it with your employer before going
  • when you booked
  • any particular reasons for you needing to travel, for example to see family overseas
  • the potential for you to work from home and any disruption this might cause.

And in any event, even if you have a good chance of winning a tribunal claim, compensation is limited and you would probably not get a tribunal hearing for a year or more.

Members who work as freelancers, or on other types of atypical or casual contracts, will be in an even more difficult situation if unexpectedly quarantined on return from holiday. Most of these workers would not even have potential rights for unfair dismissal, but it’s just as important to discuss the issue in advance with the engager.

We would hope most employers would be sensible and proportionate, but do urge members to weigh up the risks before you go. Seek advice from the union if you would like to discuss your circumstances.

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If you have further questions about this contact us for more help.