The international travel ban in the UK, which has been in place for the majority of the COVID-19 pandemic, was lifted by the UK government on 17 May 2021. However, with the introduction of the government’s traffic light system on international travel, including the potential for quarantine or self-isolation requirements, it could be a difficult summer for employers to navigate.
Given the previous international travel ban and government lockdowns, many employees have banked a lot of holiday, including annual leave rolled over from last year.
It is therefore worthwhile considering, from an employer perspective, whether you want to start to encourage your workforce to use their annual leave, even if they can’t go abroad. Not only does this allow employers to manage annual leave more effectively but it is also important that staff are being encouraged to take annual leave to manage their health and wellbeing. An employer does have rights under the Working Time Regulations to force people to take their statutory holiday if needs be.
Official Guidance on International Travel
Should staff begin to consider using their annual leave and be tempted to travel abroad, it is incumbent that they monitor the requirements for travel to green, amber and red countries and what lists countries are on.
The requirements for international travel from and to the United Kingdom are, at the date of this blog, as follows:
|Passenger Locator Form||Pre-Departure Test||Quarantine or self-isolation||PC tests|
(On or before day 2 after return)
(quarantine for 10 days at home)
(On or before day 2 and on or after Day 8 after returning to the UK (unless test and release scheme)
(quarantine for 10 days in a hotel)
(On or before day 2 and on or after day 8 after returning to the UK)
Impact of Quarantine on work
At present there are a limited number of countries on the green list that UK holiday makers can travel to; as such employees may begin to be tempted to travel to amber list countries for holiday or see family and/or friends despite government guidance not to.
Generally, employees are not required to disclose where they are going on holiday to their employer. However, given the current circumstances it would not be an unreasonable request from an employer. The information then held would be personal data, which requires a lawful basis for processing, but performance of the employment contract and legitimate interests would satisfy that where the reason for wanting to know is to understand the employee’s ability to work upon their return.
If an employer does find out about an employee’s plans to travel to an amber or red list country, it is not for them to police the employee’s actions and prohibit them from such travel. However there should be a clear message about the expectations of the employee following their return to the UK. Should employees look to travel to a country that is either on the amber or red list, they will be required to quarantine for 10 days on their return. Whilst this could have a minimal impact on employees working from home, for employees who are unable to work from home, this poses a very different scenario for both the employee and employer.
For those who are unable to work remotely and are required to quarantine, then, subject to authorisation from the employer, they may be able to take unpaid leave or additional paid annual leave. However, the employer may reject any annual leave request for business reasons, provided the employer is not acting in a discriminatory or unfair manner in doing so.
In light of this, it would be wise for an employee to look to agree the position with their employer before they travel, as if they return to the UK and don’t have their employer’s agreement for how the following days will be treated then they will have made themselves unavailable for work.
However, employers should be sympathetic where an employee has been caught out by the rules changing whilst they were abroad. Should an employee actually return to the workplace during a period when they should be quarantining following travel to an amber or red list country then an employer may well take disciplinary action.
Considering the above and the current unique world that we all live in, employers may want to issue a communication about 2021 holidays to reflect issues such as expectations on the use of annual leave, requesting notification of a foreign destination holiday and how quarantine will be dealt with.
For more information on the managing discrimination issues within the workplace, please contact a member of the Employment Team.