Following the relaxation of the rules on foreign travel after 17 May 2021 and the introduction of the traffic light regime, we look at some of the issues that may arise at work.
Current Government advice, (even after 17 May) is that people should not be travelling to amber or red areas for leisure, but with holiday companies offering holidays to these countries, quarantine is likely to be an issue that employers come up against at some point over the coming months.
At the time of writing, for green list countries, there is no quarantine requirement on the return to the UK (following a negative test) but there may be local requirements on arrival in the green country. For amber countries, the UK requirement is to quarantine for ten days and two negative tests.
Employers will need to give careful thought to staffing and how to weather potentially high levels of staff absence with employees finally able to book holidays and the possibility of an increased number of employees having to isolate as society opens up. Being mindful as well of the positive impact on wellbeing for employees at last able to take long-awaited holiday or to visit relatives.
This article looks only at annual leave and travel for leisure, a different approach may be necessary in other situations. There are specific rules requiring some types of self-isolation to be treated as sick leave with paid SSP from the first say of absence (e.g. following a call from track and trace) but these rules do not apply to a period of quarantine after a holiday.
Lots of employees stopped booking holiday while they were unable to travel during lockdown. As restrictions lift, we are concerned about a sudden rush with lots of people booking holiday at the same time, how can I manage this?
Start looking at staffing capacity and consider any measures you can put in place to accommodate having lots of staff out of the office. Be as flexible as you can with staff with requests and remember the positive benefits for employees finally able to get away.
Remind staff that they need to take their holiday. This is always good practice, especially if it is coming up to the end of the holiday year. Remind them how holiday requests will be prioritised, for example if this is on a first come basis, so you if are suddenly inundated with requests, you may not be able to approve all requests.
If gentle reminders to book holiday do not work, then as a last resort you may require an employee to take holiday on specified dates, as you might do over the Christmas break for example. The Working Time Regulations and some employment contracts allow this, provided the notice given to take leave is at least twice the length of the period of leave that you want the employee to take.
We are worried about employees booking holidays ‘amber’ countries and having to quarantine for two weeks. We don’t have the capacity to have a high proportion of the workforce out of the office out over the summer. Is there anything we can do to avoid this?
It is good practice to inform staff now of your expectations to avoid any surprises. This might involve reminding them in writing that:
- Holiday should be approved before employees book trips, to avoid losing money if you are unable to approve the requested dates. Generally a maximum of two weeks’ holiday can be booked at once, unless there are special circumstances.
- If you are unable to accommodate quarantine periods, make clear now that you will not approve staff booking annual leave/unpaid leave for an anticipated quarantine period following a holiday. Government guidance at the moment is still to avoid leisure travel to amber areas.
- If they book holiday now to an amber zone, aware that they will have to quarantine on their return, the quarantine period will be unauthorised leave and knowingly booking a holiday to an amber zone will be a disciplinary matter.
- Staff are booking holiday at their own risk: if they book leave to a green zone and the rules change while they are there, inform them now of how you will deal with this. For example, that the leave will be unpaid and potentially subject to disciplinary action, unless they are able to show that at the time they booked, the destination was in a green area.
- Of course, if you can and are prepared to accommodate quarantining staff, then inform how the quarantine period will be handled (e.g. work from home or unpaid). Factor in that other staff may need to self-isolate or quarantine at short notice.
One of my employees was due to go on holiday to Italy last year, it has been postponed to this year due to the pandemic. Italy is now in the amber zone, do I have to pay them during the self-isolation period?
Assuming the employee is unable to move the holiday again, it would be reasonable to approve the leave. At the time of booking the employee had no way of anticipating the current restrictions (this is different to the situation above which applies to new holiday bookings). You may want to ask for proof of when the holiday was booked to avoid employees abusing this approach.
There are several options for the quarantine period if you approve the leave: (a) is the employee able to work from home during the isolation period? (b) can you allow them to take some/all of it as annual leave? (c) unpaid leave; or (d) are they owed any TOIL or can they make up part of the time?
What if an employee books holiday to a ‘green’ destination but while they are abroad, the rules change and they are unable to return on time or are required to quarantine on their return, do I have to pay them?
It well known now that the travel situation can change quickly, the government proposes to review the list of countries every three weeks.
The safest thing to do will be to tell staff at an early stage before leave is taken that they book the trip at their own risk if the rules change and they are unable to return to work when expected. There are different ways of dealing with this period (see previous question), but there is no general requirement to pay for the period that the employee is unable to return.