Coronavirus: New self-isolation rules may lead to fines for employers

Keeping on top of the latest developments in the fight against coronavirus is an ongoing task – and now employers in England need to be aware that new self-isolation rules are now in force which can lead to significant fines for those who do not comply.

The new rules are aimed at limiting the spread of the transmission of the virus and impose a legal duty on individuals to self-isolate at home (and to remain at home without leaving, except in narrowly defined circumstances) when notified by the NHS Test & Trace service that they have tested positive for coronavirus or have been in close contact with someone who has tested positive. The following periods of self-isolation apply:

  • 10 days from developing symptoms (or, if no symptoms, from the date of the test) if they have tested positive for coronavirus;
  • 14 days if someone in their household has tested positive for coronavirus;
  • The period instructed if contacted by NHS Test & Trace because they have been identified as having had close contact with someone outside their household who has tested positive for coronavirus. The full period of self-isolation must be completed, even if the individual contacted does not develop symptoms or tests negative for coronavirus.

NB there is no legal obligation to self-isolate if an individual is notified of close contact with someone who has tested positive for coronavirus via the new NHS COVID-19 App.

A breach of the new rules could lead to a fine of £1,000, rising to £10,000 for repeat or serious offences. The government says it will take the following steps to assist with enforcement:

  • NHS Test and Trace call handlers will increase contact with those self-isolating;
  • police resources will be used to check compliance in highest incidence areas and in high-risk groups, based on local intelligence;
  • there will be investigation and prosecution of high-profile and egregious cases of non-compliance;
  • instances where third parties have identified others who have tested positive but are not self-isolating will be acted upon.

Importantly for employers, there are also new sanctions if they knowingly allow staff (including agency workers) to come into work when they should be self-isolating (including if they live with someone who has tested positive). In these circumstances, employers may also be liable for fines of up to £10,000.  The new rules do not prevent an employee from working from home if they are able to do so.

Employees are obliged to tell their employer that they are required to self-isolate plus the start and end dates of the isolation period. This notification must be given as soon as reasonably practicable and, at the latest, before the day the employee is next due to come into work.

Employees who are required to self-isolate may be eligible for statutory sick pay and may also qualify for a £500 self-isolation payment if the following criteria are met:

  • they have been instructed to self-isolate by NHS Test and Trace, either because they have tested positive or are the close contact of a positive case;
  • they are employed or self-employed;
  • they are unable to work from home and will lose income as a result;
  • they are currently receiving Universal Credit, Working Tax Credit, income-based Employment and Support Allowance, income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance, Income Support, Housing Benefit and/or Pension Credit.

These new requirements apply in England only, but are expected to be implemented on a similar basis in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Useful links:

The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (Self-Isolation) (England) Regulations 2020