New legal duty to self-isolate and duties on employers

From 28 September 2020, people in England are required by law to self-isolate if they test positive or are contacted by NHS Test and Trace and employers must not allow them to attend work.

Anyone in England who tests positive for COVID-19 or has been told they have been in contact with someone who has, now has a legal duty to quarantine. Failure to do so is now punishable by fines (see below). The precise rules are contained in the Health Protection (Coronavirus Restrictions) (Self-Isolation) (England) Regulations 2020.

If someone or another member of their household has symptoms of COVID-19, they should, as now, isolate immediately. If someone receives a positive test result, they are now required by law to self-isolate for the period ending 10 days after displaying symptoms or after the date of the test, if they did not have symptoms. Other members of their household must self-isolate for the period ending 14 days after symptom onset, or after the date of the initial person’s positive test.

If someone is instructed to self-isolate by NHS Test and Trace, because they have had close contact with someone outside their household who has tested positive, they are legally required to self-isolate for the period notified by NHS Test and Trace. Both household and non-household contacts must self-isolate for the full period, regardless of whether they have symptoms and, if they develop symptoms and take a test, regardless of whether any test taken gives a negative result.

The regulations also impose sanctions on employers and the providers of agency workers. Workers are obliged to tell their employer/agency that they are required to self-isolate (and provide proof) and where the employer/agency is aware of the requirement for their worker or agency worker to self-isolate, they must not knowingly allow the worker or self-isolating agency worker to attend any place other than the designated place (generally their home), during an isolation period, for any purpose related to the worker’s or self-isolating agency worker’s employment.

If the worker cannot work from home then, pursuant to existing legislation, they are entitled to SSP for this period. Those on low incomes who cannot work because they have to self-isolate will be entitled (until 31 January 2021) to a £500 Test and Trace Support Payment, on top of any SSP or other benefits to which they are entitled. There is more detail on this on the Department of Health and Social Care website.

Penalties for breaching these requirements are on a sliding scale, starting at £1,000 for the first offence and increasing to £10,000 for the fourth and subsequent ones. A failure on the part of a worker to inform their employer that they are required to self-isolate can incur a fine of £50.

It is also worth clarifying when a person who is self-isolating can only leave the house:

  • to seek medical assistance, where this is required urgently or on the advice of a registered medical practitioner, including to access services from dentists, opticians, audiologists, chiropodists, chiropractors, osteopaths and other medical or health practitioners, or services relating to mental health
  • to access veterinary services, where this is required urgently or on the advice of a veterinary surgeon
  • to fulfil a legal obligation, including attending court or satisfying bail conditions, or participating in legal proceedings
  • to avoid a risk of harm
  • to attend a funeral of a close family member
  • to obtain basic necessities such as food and medical supplies for those in the same household (including any pets or animals in the household) where it is not possible to obtain these provisions in any other manner
  • to access critical public services, including social services, and services provided to victims (such as victims of crime), and
  • to move to a different place where it becomes impracticable to remain at the address at which they are