New Coronavirus regulations see crackdown on self-isolation and the introduction of fines for employers who fail to enforce the same!

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Article

29 September, 2020

Following the Prime Ministers announcement on Tuesday 22 September and as of 12am on 28 September 2020, the Government have introduced new Coronavirus regulations, adopting a harsher approach to individual self-isolation and the obligations on an employer to encourage enforcement.

The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (Self-Isolation) (England) Regulations 2020 set out a number of restrictions and obligations, whereby failure to follow to comply can incur criminal liability for both individuals and employers. While the regulations are initially complex to digest, there are a number of important takeaways that employers should be aware of, which we have summarised below:

What has changed under the regulations?

Regulation 7 makes it an offence for an employer to knowingly permit a worker (including agency workers) to attend any place other than where the worker is self-isolating "for any purpose related to the worker's or self-isolating agency worker's employment." This is understood to extend to circumstances where a worker is self-isolating as they are living in the same household as someone who has tested positive for the virus, or has been in "close contact" with someone who has tested positive.

Close contact is defined as:

  • Face to face contact at a distance of less than 1 metre;
  • More than 15 minutes within 2 metres of an individual; or
  • Travelling in a car or other small vehicle with an individual or in close proximity to an individual on an aeroplane.

This regulations make it clear that it is the responsibility of the employer, where they are aware of the worker's need to self-isolate, to stop the worker from attending the workplace or any other place for work related reasons.

For employers, this means allowing people to work from home, wherever possible, or requiring them to cease work altogether for the 14-day self-isolation period. If a worker/ employee cannot work from home during this period, they may be entitled to Statutory Sick Pay (SSP). Workers who are not eligible to receive SSP, may instead benefit from Universal Credit or Employment and Support Allowance.

If an employer contravenes the regulations, they now risk criminal sanctions in the form of a fine, starting at £1,000. Furthermore, there will of course be a reputational risk if it is publicised that an employer has been in breach of the regulations. As such, it is imperative that employers ensure compliance and deal with situations involving self-isolation diligently.

In addition to the obligations on employers, regulation 8 confers a personal obligation on workers to tell their employer that they are self-isolating and the start and end dates of this period. Failure to do so, may result in a criminal sanction being issued up to and including summary conviction and a fine.

For employers, it will also be essential to decide whether disciplinary action is appropriate, which should be considered on a case-by-case basis.

Summary

These regulations have brought about a decidedly tougher stance on the obligation to self-isolate. However, this may in some circumstances be welcome news for employers who have already faced the challenges of requiring employees to self-isolate, where deemed appropriate and being faced with resistance from employees who are unable to work from home and wish to avoid suffering a financial detriment. Employers should ensure that there are open and clear lines of communication where an employee feels they are displaying symptoms of COVID-19 and that they remain diligent to the activities that their employees are engaging in outside of the workplace, where possible.

To mitigate the risks posed by the regulations, employers may be minded to issue or re-issue a company-wide communication, confirming that workers must notify them as soon as possible of their need to self-isolate and the circumstances surrounding this requirement.

A full version of the regulations can be reviewed here

For more information contact Trishna Modessa-Parekh in our Employment & HR department via email or phone on 01772 220215. Alternatively send any question through to Forbes Solicitors via our online Contact Form.

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