Holidays and Travel Quarantine: What Employers need to know

As you may be aware, from 8 June 2020 the UK introduced the requirement to self-isolate for 14 days upon return from most overseas travel destinations. The requirement to self-isolate requires those entering the UK to remain at their address for 14 days without leaving to go to work. The requirement is mandatory and those who fail to comply will commit a criminal offence. 
 
Consequently, your employees are likely to be impacted by this as the new travel quarantine rules have practical implications for all employees who wish to travel abroad while the quarantine remains in place. Employees who travel abroad (including holidays) will need to be absent from work for two weeks on their return unless their role is suitable for working from home.

What considerations do employers need to make?

In considering your approach, firstly you will need all employees to discuss their overseas travel plans with you in good time and before they make any holiday or travel bookings. This will enable clear advice to be provided and their annual leave confirmed before any financial commitments are made. 
 
Checked what dates are already booked - If they have international travel plans already booked there may be a requirement for travel plans to be cancelled or postponed or the company might take a view to allow the additional leave in these or other exceptional circumstances.
 
If an employee’s role in the business allows them to work from home during a period of travel quarantine, then with prior agreement this may be possible, and staff would receive their normal pay during the quarantine period.
 
Where an employee cannot work from home, the company may be able to offer one the following, subject to management discretion prior to the event:

  1. If the employee has sufficient holiday entitlement, an extended period of holiday may be permitted. This will be subject to normal rules such as minimum staffing level requirements.

  2. A two week period of unpaid leave.

  3. A one-off flexi-time arrangement – for example the Company will agree to pay the employee their normal earnings subject to them agreeing (in writing) to make their time up to cover the 14 day period, within a timeframe to suit the business. 

If there are reasonable grounds to suspect that a member of staff has been abroad and has not adhered to the legally required period of quarantine, then this may be treated as a serious disciplinary situation and in any case will be unpaid.
 
This absence is not sickness absence unless reported as such in which case if an employee reports as sick either two weeks prior to or two weeks following annual leave for overseas travel, it will be necessary to undertake a thorough review of their sickness absence and the Company can reserve the right to not pay either Company or Statutory Sick Pay if there is reason to doubt that the sickness absence isn’t genuine. Employees may be asked to supply a GP Fit Note for any period of sickness immediately before or after any such holiday absence. 
 
The quarantine rules are being reviewed every three weeks so could be lifted prior to any holidays abroad occurring or whilst an employee is on leave abroad so it is key to keep track of developments.

Be flexible with holiday during the coronavirus pandemic

In general terms employers, employees and workers should be as flexible as they can about holiday during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
 
It's a good idea to:

  • talk about any plans to use or cancel holiday during coronavirus as soon as possible

  • discuss why holiday might need to be taken or cancelled

  • listen to any concerns, either from staff or the employer

  • welcome and suggest ideas for other options

  • consider everyone's physical and mental wellbeing

  • be aware that it's a difficult time for both employers and staff

You should also consider how many employee leave days there are remaining in your current holiday year. Do you need to start reminding staff to book leave or even giving notice for employees to take leave? For the latter you would need to give double the notice for the period of leave i.e. 2 weeks’ notice for 1 week of leave.

Carrying over paid holiday to following leave years

During the coronavirus pandemic, it may not be possible for staff to take all their holiday entitlement in the current holiday year and as such the government has introduced a temporary new law allowing employees and workers to carry over up to 4 weeks' paid holiday into their next 2 holiday leave years. This law applies for any holiday the employee or worker does not take because of coronavirus, for example if:

  • they're self-isolating or too sick to take holiday before the end of their leave year

  • they've had to continue working and could not take paid holiday

They may also be able to carry over holiday if they’ve been 'furloughed' and cannot reasonably use it in their holiday year. Whatever is agreed I recommend that it is documented with the employee(s) in writing to avoid confusion.
 
If you have any questions related to the above, or any other HR and employment law matters, the Alcumus PSM HR team are her to help. Talk to one of our experts by emailing psm.enquiries@alcumusgroup.com or call us on 01484 439930.
 
Alcumus PSM (People & Safety Management) specialises in Human Resources (HR) and Health & Safety (H&S) consulting for small and medium-sized enterprises.
 
Written by Susan Barker, Senior HR Consultant