Employers in England that knowingly allow or force staff to come to work when they should be self-isolating can be fined up to £10,000 from today (28 September).
The new rules are part of a set of measures that make it a legal duty for individuals to self-isolate if they test positive for coronavirus or if they are told to self-isolate by the NHS Track and Trace system. It introduces fines for both individuals who fail to self-isolate and businesses that let workers break self-isolation through the course of their work.
The measures were announced last week by health secretary Matt Hancock as part of the government’s response to an increase in Covid cases over the last few weeks. At the time, Hancock said the government would “crack down on employers that [tried] to prevent staff from following the rules”.
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Under the rules, individuals are now required by law to tell their employer if they’ve tested positive or been asked to self-isolate by the official track and trace service. Once an employer has been informed a worker or agency worker is required to self-isolate, they are prohibited from allowing that individual to go anywhere other than their designated self-isolation space for the purposes of work.
Fines for companies falling foul of the rules start at £1,000 and could be as much as £10,000 – with the amount increasing for repeat offenders.
Paul Holcroft, associate director at Croner, said the new rules sent a “clear message to employers” that any attempts to try and prevent employees from following self-isolation rules would “not be tolerated”.
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But, he said, the severity of the penalty for businesses found breaking the rules would likely depend on the situation. “For example, if employees are forced to come into work because of fears over losing their jobs, and therefore feel they have been pressured into breaking the law, their employer would likely face a more serious sanction,” he said.
But Holcroft added that employers turning a blind eye to workers breaking the rules “may find themselves just as liable” as the worker.
There were still some grey areas, however, said Holcroft. It was unclear, for example, what would happen if an employer was unaware of their employee’s requirement to self-isolate and asked them to come into work.
“In this scenario, their honest mistake may result in a lesser penalty. However, they would likely need to demonstrate they could not reasonably have been made aware of this,” he said.
As such, it was vital employers communicated the new law to staff and clearly outlined how the organisation planned to manage situations where staff needed to self-isolate. “Specifically, staff should know who they need to contact when told to self-isolate, and how this self-isolation will impact on their normal working arrangements,” Holcroft said.
“Given the serious nature of this requirement, it may even be advisable to inform staff that if they are told to self-isolate and do not inform management, they may be subject to disciplinary action.”