As part of the continuing response to Covid-19, new regulations introduced on 28 September make self-isolation a legal requirement. Anyone that unreasonably fails to self-isolate is liable to be fined between £1,000 to £10,000.
For employers, the new legislation means that they risk the same level of fines where they knowingly allow self-isolating staff to attend work, without a reasonable excuse.
The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (Self-Isolation) (England) Regulations 2020 have placed self-isolation requirements on individuals who have been notified by NHS staff (other than by the NHS Covid-19 Smartphone app), local authority staff or the Secretary of State that:
· they have tested positive for Covid-19;
· they have had close contact with someone who has tested positive; or
· that a child (under the age of 18), who they are responsible for, has tested positive for the virus or has come into close contact with someone who has tested positive for the virus.
‘Close contact’ here means having face to face contact with another at a distance of less than 1 metre, spending 15 minutes within 2 metres of another or travelling in a car, small vehicle or in close proximity on a plane with another.
So, what do employers need to know?
Under Regulation 8, workers are now required (by law) to let their employers know if they are required to self-isolate. They must also notify them of the start and end dates of their period of isolation. Workers are required to notify their employers as soon as it is reasonably practicable for them to do so but, in any event, before they are next due to start work within their isolation period.
Under Regulation 7, employers that have been made aware of a worker’s requirement to self-isolate must not knowingly allow them to attend any place (other than where they are required to self-isolate (i.e. their home)) for purposes related to their employment.
Those who do not follow the rules without a reasonable excuse may be found to have committed a criminal offence and receive a fine, which can vary from £1,000 up to £10,000.
Importantly, if an offence is committed by a body corporate and it is proven that it was committed with the ‘consent’ or ‘connivance’ of an officer of that body (such as a director, manager or secretary), or is attributable to any neglect on the part of an officer then, the officer in question (as well as the body corporate) will be guilty of the offence and equally liable to be prosecuted and punished.
What should employers be doing?
Employers should therefore ensure that any directors or managers are aware of the new rules and ensure that they are not guilty of ‘turning a blind eye’ to workers coming in to work, in breach of the rules.
Employers should communicate these new changes to all of their staff and make sure that they have procedures readily in place for their staff to be able to confidentially alert their employer to their need to self-isolate such as, having a designated point of contact for such purposes. Employers must also be prepared to deal with self-isolating staff and ensure that, where possible, arrangements are in place so that staff do not feel pressured to come to work in order to effectively carry out their job.
Finally, employers could consider informing staff that any failure to follow the new self-isolation regulations or internal notification procedures, could result in disciplinary action.
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