Hassle Free HR – Self Isolation 

The rules for self-isolation are as follows:

  • Anyone who experiences a new continuous cough, a fever or the loss of smell or taste (otherwise known as “anosmia”) should self-isolate for a minimum of 10 days. After those 10 days, if their symptoms get worse or they show no improvement, advice should be sought by NHS online, and it is likely a further 4 days of self-isolation will be advised. Individuals exhibiting symptoms will also be able to request an NHS test to confirm if their symptoms are Coronavirus or a different respiratory illness. Tests can be requested as soon as symptoms develop.
  • Anyone who tests positive for Coronavirus will be required to self-isolate for a minimum of 10 days and should use the Test and Trace system to inform Contact Tracers of who they have recently been in contact with. For the purposes of Test and Trace, “contact” is defined as being within 2 meters of someone for 15 minutes or more.
  • Anyone who comes into contact with a suspected or confirmed case of Coronavirus should seek advice from NHS online, and will likely be advised to self-isolate for 14 days, even if they do not exhibit symptoms. If symptoms develop, the advice changes to 10 days of self-isolation, starting from the first day of symptoms.
  • Anyone who is contacted by Test and Trace must self-isolate for a period of 14 days, even if they do not have symptoms. If symptoms develop, the advice changes to 10 days of self-isolation, starting from the first day of symptoms.
  • Anyone who lives in the same household as someone who is exhibiting Coronavirus symptoms, or someone who has tested positive for Coronavirus, should self-isolate for 14 days, even if the ill person only self-isolates for 10 days. There is no need to seek NHS advice to confirm that self-isolation is appropriate in these circumstances.
  • People who share a house with someone who has been contacted by the Test and Trace system, but who does not have symptoms, are not required to self-isolate unless the person contacted develops symptoms. The same rule applies for the parents of children in an “education bubble” who have been sent home for precautionary measures, but who do not have any symptoms themselves, unless told otherwise by Test and Trace.

From Monday 28 September 2020 onwards, the above information will be officially viewed as “law”, meaning all people will be legally obliged to follow the self-isolation rules. If people do not comply with the legally mandated self-isolation rules, financial penalties will be given, starting from £1,000 and increasing to £10,00 where there are repeat offences or particularly serious breaches. Where necessary, prosecutions can also be made. It should be noted that fines can be given to individuals, but they can also be given to employers who discourage employees from complying with self-isolation rules or who formally manage employees due to self-isolation compliance.

There is an assumption that a negative test result means self-isolation is no longer necessary, but this is not always the case. In the majority of cases people who have tested negative for Coronavirus are still required to isolate for 14 days, especially if they were informed of the need to isolate and be tested by the Test and Trace system. This is because Coronavirus can incubate in the body, this incubation period could mean that when a person is tested they receive a negative result, but symptoms could then develop after the test has taken place. This is leading many health practitioners and the Test and Trace system to advice people to continue to self-isolate for 14 days after a negative test result. Employers should be mindful that a negative result does not mean the employee can return to work, as all employees and employers are required to comply with self-isolation rules and guidance. In some circumstances a negative result will bring an end to an individual’s self-isolation period, and they will be able to return to work / social activities, etc.

Employees have been advised that they can get an “Isolation Note”, which is the equivalent of a Fit Note, from the NHS online service. We advise all employers to be flexible with absence documentation requirements when an employee is absent due to the Coronavirus, because the NHS is understandably experiencing significant strain and therefore employees may find it difficult obtaining Isolation Notes.

The Government have stated that the Test and Trace system will be able to provide employers with “evidence” of the need to isolate. This could either mean that employees are provided with an “Isolation Note”, or employees will receive a text / email that they can then forward to their employer. Employers should support the Test and Trace system and should not ask an isolating employee to return to the workplace before the 14 days are up, or “punish” employees for complying with Test and Trace rules.

The Government have been clear that any absence relating to the Coronavirus should not be included in any absence management procedures, even if the employee’s attendance record is already considered “problematic”. No employee should suffer a detriment for complying with Government and NHS guidance on this matter. However, anyone who has been advised to self-isolate to prevent the spread of the Coronavirus but chooses to disregard this information and remain at work, can be investigated and managed in line with the Company’s disciplinary procedure.

Self-Isolation and Statutory Sick Pay (SSP)

On 13 March 2020 the Government confirmed that anyone who self-isolates due to the above requirements will be entitled to receive SSP, even if they have no symptoms. On 28 March 2020 the Statutory Sick Pay (Coronavirus) (Suspension of Waiting Days and General Amendment) Regulations 2020 came into force, which means that SSP is now payable from the first day of an employee’s absence, rather than the fourth day, where the absence is due to Coronavirus symptoms or preventative self-isolation. This new legislation can be backdated to cover absences that started on or after 13th March 2020.

On 27 July 2020, following a change in rules for anyone who returns to the UK from Spain, the Government have confirmed that anyone who must self-isolate after entering or returning to the UK will not be entitled to SSP for the 14 days they self-isolate. Where this causes an employee to self-isolate for 14 days following a period of annual leave, employers have been told to “exercise good will” and “be reasonable”. The Government have been clear that employees cannot be penalised for following official advice / self-isolating when required, especially when the rules can change so quickly and the self-isolation rules may be imposed when the employee is already on holiday. In the absence of SSP, employers can allow employees to use more annual leave to cover self-isolation (if applicable), employees can work from home, or employees can take unpaid leave.

However, if an employee who returns from holiday is required to self-isolate because they or a member of their household is exhibiting Coronavirus symptoms, the employee would be entitled to SSP during their period of self-isolation, as detailed in the above bullet points.

Last reviewed on 15 September 2020