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Coronavirus self-isolation; what employers need to know

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Posted by Tina Chander on 27 February 2020

Tina Chander - Head of Employment Law
Tina Chander Partner - Head of Employment Law

Public Health England (PHE) has advised that individuals who have returned from Category 1 specified countries/areas in the last 14 days should self-isolate.

However, for employers, what is the legal position on allowing their employees to do so?

There is no legal obligation for employers to pay sick pay to employees who are under self-isolation due to visiting a coronavirus infected area. However, if an employer does not, there is the risk that employees will come into work and potentially spread the virus amongst the workforce. 

However, in the first instance, an employer should consider the advice from ACAS:

  • asking employees who have work laptops or mobile phones to take them home so that they can work there
  • arranging paperwork tasks that can be done at home for employees who do not work on computers
  • making sure employees have a way to communicate with their employer and work colleagues

Employees refusing to work

In addition to employees who are in quarantine or isolation, employees may be worried that if employees who have visited the affected areas are in work, that they may catch the virus. It is, therefore, a vicious cycle if you allow the potentially unwell employees to attend work. If employees refuse to come into work as they are concerned they might catch coronavirus, it is important that the employer listens to these concerns and potentially offers flexible working (such as homeworking). Again, employees may request time off, but as stated above, there is no legal requirement to agree to this or pay employees unless they do have the virus. Therefore an employers usual sick pay rules will apply. If the employee continues to refuse to come into work, the employer would be entitled to take disciplinary action. 


If the employer hasn’t already done so, they may wish to send around email guidance on encouraging employees to be extra-vigilant. If the employer does have the capacity to, it is advised that it may be worth designating an ‘isolation room’ for employees who feel unwell and may feel the need to call a doctor for advice. This will ensure that other employees are less likely to refuse to work if the employer is taking measures to reduce the virus spreading. 

About the author

Tina Chander

Partner - Head of Employment Law

Tina is head of our employment law team. She deals with contentious and non-contentious employment law issues.

Tina Chander

Tina is head of our employment law team. She deals with contentious and non-contentious employment law issues.

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