An employers’ guide to managing travel-related quarantine

An employers’ guide to managing travel-related quarantine

New coronavirus regulations mean that any travellers arriving in the UK from countries with a high number of Covid-19 cases must enter an immediate 14-day period of self-isolation.

The rules apply both to UK residents and visitors.

This has the potential to create several issues for employers when it comes to managing the self-isolation periods for employees returning from restricted territories.

Here are some of the things you need to bear in mind.

What is the current position on overseas travel?

The Foreign & Commonwealth Office is currently advising British nationals against all but essential international travel.

However, travel to some countries and territories which pose less of a coronavirus risk to British travellers (view the full list here) is currently exempted.

Anyone arriving in the UK from one of the exempted countries does not need to self-isolate. But,

those arriving from countries on the list will be required, by UK law, to serve an immediate 14-day self-isolation period upon entry.   

Employers and employees should bear in mind that the advice, and the list of exempted countries, is under constant review and could change at short notice.

How can I manage self-isolation within my business?

There are several things to bear in mind when it comes to determining your approach to managing any employees who must self-isolate after returning to the UK.

Ensuring your employees are aware of the current guidelines and the potential implications of travelling overseas is essential.

The coronavirus pandemic is still volatile, and countries can be removed from the exempt list at short notice if there is a local spike in Covid-19 cases.

As an employer, it’s reasonable to request that your employees inform you of any plans they might have to travel abroad, so you can understand and assess the potential impact of self-isolation, particularly if the employee is unable to work from home.

You might be tempted to implement a policy which requires employees to get written consent before booking a holiday, but this can be risky. It is usually up to your employees how they use their holidays. If such requests are being handled inconsistently by senior managers, it could give rise to allegations of discrimination or unfairness.

What obligations do employers have to pay employees during self-isolation?

Absence due to travel-related self-isolation is not classed as a period of incapacity for Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) purposes, so would be unpaid.

However, if employees become ill or develop Covid-19 symptoms during their period of self-isolation, they would become eligible for quarantine, SSP.

If employees can work from home while adhering to the requirements for self-isolation, they can do so. As an employer, it would be reasonable to make provisions for this ahead of travel.  

Can employees take their self-isolation period as annual leave?

With prior agreement, employees could take some, or all, of their self-isolation period as holiday.

However, this may not leave them with much holiday allocation for the rest of the year if, for example, they returned from a two-week holiday and then took a further two weeks’ annual leave to self-isolate. This may cause wellbeing issues later in the year if an employee has used up most of their annual leave in one go but needs a break from work.

Can I oblige an employee to take self-isolation as annual leave?

Employers can instruct employees when to take holiday, provided they give at least twice as much notice as the leave period they want them to take.

So, if you want an employee to take a two-week holiday, you must give them at least two weeks’ notice. There are a few things to bear in mind if you take this approach.

If there is a significant part of the holiday year left to run and you are requesting an employee take the majority of their annual leave allocation in one go, this could have an impact on their wellbeing if they don’t have the opportunity to take leave later in the year.

As an employer, dictating how and when your employees must take their annual leave can have a negative impact on staff engagement and morale.

Finally, there’s no guarantee that an employment tribunal would view this as a reasonable request, especially if other options such as working from home or unpaid leave were not explored.

Government guidance states it is the employer’s responsibility to consider whether any restrictions the employee is under – such as the need to socially distance or self-isolate – would prevent the worker from resting, relaxing and enjoying their leisure time, which is the fundamental purpose of holiday.

Can I treat travel-related self-isolation as unauthorised absence?

Employers shouldn’t treat travel-related self-isolation as unauthorised absence.

Where it’s necessary, employees are under a legal obligation to comply with the regulations. It would be both unreasonable and inappropriate for an employer to require an employee to come into work while they are self-isolating.

As stated previously, if they are able to, employees can work from home, so this option should always be explored.

Can I cancel an employee’s annual leave?

Employers have the right to cancel annual leave provided they give at least the same amount of notice to the employees as the length of holiday they are taking.

So, if you’re employee plans to take two weeks’ annual leave, you would need to give them at least two weeks’ notice of cancellation before the start of their holiday.

However, unless there are exceptional circumstances which justify cancelling an employee’s annual leave, this could be viewed as an unreasonable decision in any potential constructive dismissal claim or tribunal.

It could also damage your relationship with your employees and give rise to wider dissatisfaction.    

If you are considering cancelling an employee’s annual leave, you’ll need to balance the impact on the individual if they do travel against the impact on the business if they have to self-isolate.

Some of the things you may wish to bear in mind include any financial losses incurred by the employee, and the personal impact of missing, for example, their main family holiday of the year.

For the business, cancelling an employee’s annual leave could have a detrimental impact on wider employee engagement.

An extended employee absence may also be difficult for your business to manage if they can’t work from home while self-isolating.  

 

COVID-19 Business Support Hub

These are challenging times for business and although our ethos is to only shout about good news, we've created COVID-19 Business Support Hub on the Love Business the website to support you with expert tips, advice and ideas from your fellow businesses to help you get through this COVID-19 crisis. 
 

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