When our Government added France to the UK’s quarantine list, it meant a desperate scramble to get home for 500,000 British holidaymakers or face having to quarantine for 14 days on their return. As the Government warns UK holidaymakers that it will continue to be ‘ruthless’ when it comes to travel quarantine, what does it mean for employers if a worker must quarantine after their holiday?

Quarantine after holiday

People visiting countries on the Department of Transport’s approved travel corridors list don’t have to quarantine on their return. However, as new destinations are crossed off the list each week, people are being caught out and forced to self-isolate for 14 days when they return home, despite the country they were visiting being on the list when they first got there. Quarantine means they must not leave home to go to work, exercise or socialise. They can only go out to shop for essentials if no one can do it for them, get medical assistance or attend court or a funeral.

For people who can work at home, being in quarantine might not be so much of an issue; however, if a staff member is usually required to go into work it could lead to significant operational problems.  In this scenario, it would be reasonable to treat the leave as unpaid.

Statutory Sick Pay (SSP)

Employees are not entitled to Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) if they have to self-isolate after returning to the UK from abroad and not able to work from home. However, an employer can choose to pay them sick pay at either the statutory rate or a higher level. If an employee does have coronavirus or its symptoms and has to self-isolate, then they are eligible for SSP at £95.85 per week. They may also be entitled to the new employment support allowance or universal credit.

Cancelling annual leave

There is nothing to stop an employer from asking a member of staff to cancel their booked holiday if there is a risk that the worker may need to quarantine on return and they are unable to work from home. While it essentially comes down to management discretion, employees who are unable to work at home could be allowed to take additional annual leave or unpaid leave. Alternatively, if the employee and employer agree, the individual could be furloughed for the period they are self-isolating.

If an employer decides to request that an employee cancels their holiday, this should be handled carefully to avoid bad will. Employers are encouraged to provide a sensible explanation for their decision and if unable to reach a compromise, should provide a good business reason for requiring an employee to cancel their leave. Do also remember that if you wish to decline a request for annual leave under the Working Time Regulations you have to give twice as much notice as the leave requested.

Updating company holiday policy

With overseas travel currently considered a risk, employers need to adapt their company holiday policies in light of coronavirus. Firms should be looking at ways to alleviate the risk, such as requesting workers to give more notice, set limits for different weeks for annual leave or assign conditions to quarantine regions. It is important that employers don’t just impose changes in holiday policy but instead consult with their staff to find an agreeable way forward for everyone.

Before your employee leaves the UK for their holiday, it’s a good idea to put their responsibilities and your expectations of them down in writing and to confirm their return to work date, what they must do if Government recommendations change and how the company will be recording the annual leave. You may also wish to remind the employee that it is their responsibility to stay up-to-date with the latest COVID-19 rules before they leave, during their holiday and when they return to the UK.

Further HR support

For support and advice on any employment-related issue, contact HR on 0844 324 5840 or contact us online.

Sue Watson

About Sue Watson