Summer 2021: Holidays, quarantine, and the workplace
On 17 May 2021, restrictions were eased across England. Pubs and restaurants can now serve customers inside (subject to the rule of six), cinemas and museums have re-opened, and the government announced that holidays abroad would now be permitted to certain countries. With many Brits keen to escape the vagaries of the British weather, this bulletin considers the employment implications of foreign travel during the pandemic.
Green, amber, or red list countries?
The government is currently highlighting the risks in different countries by using a traffic light system. Countries on the red list present serious concerns regarding the levels of coronavirus in the population. Amber list countries have a medium risk and green list countries have a low risk.
There is currently a legal requirement to self-isolate following travel from red or amber list countries to the UK. Failure to do so could lead to a fine for the individual in question. However, those arriving from green list countries will not need to quarantine provided they have a negative COVID-19 test two days after they return.
Employees travelling abroad
Employers should have open discussions with employees about the practicalities of foreign travel in the current climate before they book any holidays. These should include:
- whether employees can work from home during any periods they may be required to quarantine;
- whether employees will need to use their annual leave during periods they are required to quarantine;
- making sure employees know they are not entitled to statutory sick pay if required to quarantine due to foreign travel; and
- whether any unpaid leave or other types of leave may be required.
Some employers may wish to consider implementing paid ‘quarantine leave’ for those travelling abroad.
Employees who need to self-isolate should not leave their home to go to work and employers should encourage employees to follow the rules. Employers may wish to consider implementing a suitable policy in this respect that can be applied consistently throughout the workplace.
There are different rules for those who need to travel for work purposes. These rules are complex and specific to each role and appropriate advice should be sought on any travel associated with work.
At times travel abroad cannot be avoided such as in the case of a family emergency or bereavement. The same rules as above should be followed upon return. If employees can work from home, they should be allowed to and, where that is not possible, they should consider other options such as unpaid leave.
Can an employer stop an employee from going abroad to avoid quarantining?
It is unlikely now that, in most employer’s employment contracts or staff handbooks, there will be any clauses that address whether an employer can prevent an employee from travelling abroad. There are many issues that employers considering implementing such a policy would need to consider (quite apart from the need to consult with staff about any such proposed alteration to contractual terms and conditions). These include the fact that such a policy could be indirectly discriminatory to those who are not British nationals. An employer would need to be able to demonstrate that they have a strong business need for the introduction of such a policy.
Current best practice
The pragmatic advice to employers for now is to keep an eye on the government’s safe travel lists and have discussions with employees at an early stage about proposed trips abroad. The last year has shown how unpredictable the national (and international) picture can be and employers will potentially need to be flexible and responsive to further changes introduced by the government.