Understanding self-isolation offence

With new laws surrounding breach of self-isolation requirements now in force, we explore what organisations need to be aware of if their employees are told to isolate.

From 28 September 2020, it became a legal requirement for employees to self-isolate if told to do so as a result of potential, or confirmed, coronavirus exposure. These can range from having symptoms, to being told they have a positive case of Covid-19, to coming back from a country listed by the government has having high infection rates.

Breaching these new ‘Self-Isolation Regulations’ can lead to individuals receiving significant fines, a liability that also extends to organisations. In a nutshell, if businesses are found to have breached these requirements, they will face a fixed penalty notice of £1,000, rising to £10,000 for fourth offences and above. It is therefore crucial that organisations are familiar with the law.  

In the Regulations, if an organisation requires an employee to come into work despite them being told to self-isolate, they will have committed an offence. This extends not just to them attending the usual place of work, but any other place connected with work that is not the location in which they are self-isolating, ie their home. For example, if an employee is asked to visit a client on work-related purposes, or even a colleague, this would still be in breach of the Regulations despite any social distancing in place and their visit only being a short one. Whilst staff can be asked to work from home if they are well enough to do so, they must not be encouraged or told by an organisation to leave here for work-related purposes.

These provisions also extend to ‘knowingly’ allowing an employee to attend the workplace, in other words being aware they have been told to self-isolate but permitting them to come into work if they want to. However, the situation does get a little bit trickier if the organisation is not aware of their employee’s situation, and this employee then goes on to breach the rules. Whilst employees are expected under the Regulations to disclose this if they have to undertake work-related activities outside of the place they are self-isolating, the law is less clear on what happens if an organisation is not told, or if the message does not get through to management.

To this end, it is vital that organisations take these new Regulations into account and make sure they are adhering to them. Employees should be clearly informed what they are expected to do if they are told to self-isolate, including who they need to tell, when and how. It should also be made clear that, due to the importance of adhering to the Regulations, failure to follow this could result in disciplinary action.

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