29th March, 2021
Granting Leave for Employee Holidays
Since the Prime Minister set out his roadmap in February to gently ease the lockdown restrictions in England, many are getting excited about the prospect of potentially having a holiday abroad this year.
Based on the current plans set out by the UK government, UK citizens may be able to holiday internationally from 17 May 2021 at the very earliest. Presently, anyone travelling abroad from England must complete a form to declare their reasoning for leaving the country, and any person found trying to leave the country without a legally permitted reason will be hit with a £5,000 fine.
With employees feeling hopeful and starting to book their summer holidays in advance, many businesses are left wondering what the effects of any potential quarantine periods will be if their employee is required to isolate on return from their holiday, and whether they will be required to pay their employee’s wages during this time.
What practical considerations do employers need to have in mind when approving annual leave for international holidays?
The main issue that a business needs to consider when approving annual leave requests for international holidays is the length of the required quarantine periods on return from the country that their employee will be visiting.
The required quarantine periods afforded to each country are constantly changing and may be removed completely by the time your employee is set to go on holiday, but just in case they aren’t, as an employer you need to be aware of these periods so that you can manage the effect of any employee being out of office during this time potentially unable to work (if they are unable to work from home) and understand your obligations when it comes to paying them.
If your employee works in an area that does not qualify for travel restrictions and they are going abroad solely for personal leisure purposes, then they are likely to have to quarantine for a period of up to 10 days on return from their holiday.
What are the quarantine restrictions in place currently?
Currently, the UK has a complete travel ban on counties on the ‘red’ list. The result of this is that if any of your employees visit one of the countries on the red list, they will be required to quarantine for 10 days on their return to the UK in a government approved hotel. If your employee is an overseas migrant and has no residence rights in the UK, they will be refused entry completely.
There are many popular tourist destinations on this list, including countries such as Argentina, South Africa and the UAE. The list is continually changing, and it is advisable for employers to regularly check it to ensure that they are aware of the up-to-date guidance. The full list can be found online at: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/transport-measures-to-protect-the-uk-from-variant-strains-of-covid-19
For countries not on the red list, employees are still required to quarantine for 10 days albeit not in a government approved hotel. They must take a covid-19 test on day 2 and day 8 of their isolation period. This again will mean that it is likely that they will be unable to attend their place of work following their holiday, depending on the rules in place at the time of their return.
Does an employer have to pay an employee for quarantine periods following their holiday?
There is no black or white answer on whether an employer will be required to pay an employee their wages for any period they are required to remain in isolation following their holiday abroad. It will depend on the individual circumstances of each matter.
If the employee is a home worker or can effectively work from home during this period, and the requirement to isolate doesn’t affect their roles or responsibilities, then they will be able to work during this time as normal and you will be required to pay them. The issues begin to arise if the employee cannot work from home.
Due to the length of the required quarantine period typically being around 10 days and many workplaces having a restriction on employees taking more than 10 working days of annual leave consecutively, it is likely that most employees will have insufficient annual leave to cover both their holiday and the following quarantine period.
If this can be done and the employee can cover their isolation period with annual leave, for example:
- if the employee had a very short trip abroad and they can fit the quarantine period in their annual leave allowance;
- if the quarantine period has been reduced since the date of this article; or
- if you don’t have a restriction on consecutive annual leave days
then it is advisable that this is the best way to deal with employee quarantine time. The employee can take this time as annual leave and be paid as they usually would during this time off work.
Furthermore, if there is a 10-day restriction in the annual leave policy and the employer is willing to amend this to allow an employee to use up additional annual leave over and above the usual 10-day restriction (although it may mean that they are off work for a considerable amount of time) it is also advisable to deal with it in this way.
If an employee is not able to work from home and they are unable to use annual leave to cover this quarantine period for any reason, it may be the case that they could agree to take unpaid leave during this time. Of course, the other options are preferable and reduce the risk of any employment claims but if these are not possible then unpaid leave should be reviewed.
If the requirement to quarantine following departure from a certain country was not in place at the time that the employee booked their holiday, we would advise that employers use their discretion as to whether this employee is paid for their period of isolation as it may be unfair to withhold payment for a quarantine period that they were not aware of at the time of booking.
If you have any questions about paying employees for their quarantine periods or any other employment issues related to covid-19, please contact our employment law experts for their assistance.
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