We’ve all been desperately looking forward to our long awaited summer holidays: jumping on a plane, feeling the instant heat when you land, seeing the bluest of skies, seas and pools that are yours for a week or two… Ah… bliss!
However with the sudden turnaround on Portugal’s ‘green’ list status many of us are still wondering if we should play it safe in the UK or risk going abroad.
The UK’s vaccination programme seems to be on track but the government are still being very cautious in committing to any guarantees as the global pandemic continues. So what are your obligations as an employer? Can you stop employees from travelling? and would you even want to?
From an employment law perspective, each employee is entitled to a minimum of 28 days holiday a year including any public holidays, which will be pro-rated for those that work part-time. This annual leave should be taken every year, although some employers allow an element of this to roll over if necessary. There is no upwards limit on holiday that you can add to your employee package.
The law states that people must give reasonable notice to take holiday which is normally twice the length of the time requested, eg: 2 weeks notice for a weeks holiday. However you do have the right to refuse this if it is a busy period or others in the team are away, or you have allocated holiday times to work with the seasonality of your business.
Traveling abroad for holiday
Q: Can I stop employees from going abroad on holiday this year?
While an employer can normally dictate when people take holiday, lawfully you have no right to dictate where they can go on holiday. If you are worried about the consequences of planned quarantine or last minute changes to government policy that enforce last minute quarantine for those travelling abroad you may wish to implement a specific policy to discourage employees from going. For example, to make it clear that any quarantine advice must be followed but they would not be paid during this time, or home working provisions are to be agreed and put in place before leaving so they can be accessed if necessary on their return.
Q: Do my employees have to tell me whether they are going abroad on holiday this year?
During these uncertain times it would be worth encouraging communication between staff and line managers or HR to ensure that the return process is as smooth as possible in the event of a return to quarantine. If an employee has been allowed to work from home throughout the pandemic, and could continue to do so on their return then it may be an easy conversation to have. However, if your staff cannot work remotely this may cause a problem. So having a clear policy on whether you require employees to use additional holiday or unpaid leave in the event of quarantine then even those that don’t speak to you should be aware of the consequences should the situation arise. There is no legal requirement to pay employers during quarantine (and they are not entitled to sick pay), but for staff retention and goodwill you may decide to have a discretionary case by case approach to this.
Needing employees to travel again for work
You may be in a position where International business travel is essential to your company. With this you are subject to the same red, amber and green lists as travel. Although you would have to factor in paid quarantine, possible additional hotel costs and pay for any tests due to local restrictions at the destination.
Certain very specific professions have modified or relaxed requirements when travelling back into the UK, but they are quite limited and vary across the UK countries; most people will need to comply with the default rules around green, amber and red list countries, even if travelling for work.
As an employer you have a right to request reasonable instructions be followed by your team, but in the current circumstances that is likely to depend on the destination and what the employee is being asked to do there. There is also the matter of how COVID-safe it is. Asking someone to travel to a red list country is unlikely to be considered a reasonable request unless there is a very compelling reason. So your employee may have the right to refuse to travel if they feel you are being unreasonable. As always good communication between all parties is the best policy here, you want your staff to feel safe and valued especially after such trying times.
If you want to discuss any situations you may have, then drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 0203 627 7048