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From deckchair to desperation: the government must help holidaymakers facing quarantine 

Published date
Thousands of returning holidaymakers face hardship after being forced to go into quarantine. The government and employers must ensure that they are protected.

The last thing you want to do as you sit by the pool is worry about how you’re going to pay the bills when you get home, or even if you will have a job.

But thousands of holidaymakers face that situation after the decision from the government to require those returning from Spain to go into quarantine.

Some 1.8 million Britons are due to visit Spain this summer and many are in the middle of their holidays.

However, the government has refused to take action to ensure that workers affected by the sudden move still get paid or even retain their jobs.

Foreign secretary Dominic Rabb has simply called on the generosity of employers, requesting that they “show those employees, who will have to quarantine because of the law, the flexibility they need”. 

These words provide no protection where an employer insists a worker takes unpaid leave or even return to work.

The TUC believes no-one should suffer hardship for a decision they had no control over.
We are calling for:

  • Employers to continue to pay affected workers, wherever possible.
  • The government to extend eligibility for statutory sick pay (SSP) to those in quarantine.
  • Widened eligibility and increased payments for SSP

Will I be paid or get sick pay if I go into quarantine?

The exact rules will depend on your contract.

If you can work from home, as many people have done since lockdown began in March, then many employers will be happy for this arrangement to continue.

If you cannot work from home, some employers might agree to extend your annual leave if you have days remaining. 

Others might consent to a period of unpaid leave, but this will leave many families suffering grave hardship. The government has so far refused to extend eligibility for statutory sick pay to those forced to quarantine.

Didn’t the government already change the rules on sick pay?

From 13 March, workers who self-isolate are entitled to SSP and must receive it from the first day they are absent (avoiding the usual three-day wait) if, for example, they have coronavirus symptoms or someone in their household has coronavirus symptoms.

However, the government has declined to extend this eligibility to those who have to self-isolate due to returning from a country that is not exempted from the quarantine rules, even if the rules changed while they were overseas.

What about benefits? 

There have been suggestions from the government that those quarantining should claim social security benefits. 

“If there are people who need urgent support, they may be entitled to the new-style employment support allowance or universal credit”,  said Boris Johnson.

The basic Universal Credit payment is £79 a week for those aged under 25, and £94.60 a week for people aged 25 or over. This is around the same rate as the maximum rate for statutory sick pay (£96 per week). Both of these are far too low to live on.

But the long wait for first payment make it unsuitable as a sick pay replacement. UC payments can take up to five weeks to process. Advance payment loans are available, but these have to be repaid. 

And it is typically not available to those with £16,000 of savings.

Can my employer sack me?

The problem with the government’s stance is that it gives no protection to workers whose employers insist they return to work outside the home.

Obeying the quarantine laws and staying at home could result in disciplinary measures and even dismissal.
Notably, those employees who do not have two years of service are unable to claim for unfair dismissal.

This is why the government must change the law to ensure that employers cannot dismiss anyone who is obeying official instructions to stay in self-isolation. The TUC has long argued that unfair dismissal rights should apply from the first day of employment.

It is important that the government acts to protect workers who would be put at risk if someone who should have been in quarantine obeys an employer instruction and returns to work outside the home.

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