As government guidance on foreign travel continues to be updated, often at extremely short notice, many employers are being left confused about how to manage a workforce who could be required to quarantine.

At the time of writing this article, the UK government is using a traffic light system to impose Covid-19 related travel rules on trips to certain countries. These are categorised as red, amber, or green, with each colour posing different requirements for testing and self-isolation.

While the opportunity to travel again has understandably been welcomed by many, the government’s rules have created a new set of challenges for businesses. In most cases, the biggest concern for employers is dealing with employees who may be unable to work due to being in travel quarantine.

To help ensure that situations like this are managed correctly, we have outlined the current legal position for employers below.

Can you prevent employees from travelling abroad?

While an employer can reject a holiday request at the point of submission, it does not always have the absolute right to cancel the holiday further down the line.

It should also be noted that the employer does not have the right to know the reason behind a holiday request, with employees being able to keep this private if preferred. Although this is unlikely to present issues in other situations, there is certainly room for a managerial headache when applied to the current state of travel.

Due to the traffic light system, it is a realistic possibility that holiday destinations could move to stricter categories after the stage of annual leave being approved. This may then present a situation where a travelling employee is required to quarantine on their return from a holiday abroad.

Regardless of this possibility, an employer cannot forbid its employees from leaving the country during an approved period of annual leave, nor can it have any say in which countries they are allowed to visit. As mentioned above, an employer cannot force an employee to give details on how they will spend their holiday, and the same principle applies to the idea of an employer deciding how they should spend it.

How to manage employees who are facing travel quarantine

If an employer has concerns that their employee is likely to be impacted by travel rule changes, much of their ability to manage it will depend upon the employer itself and the role of the employee.

Although employers do have the right to reject holiday requests, a lack of knowledge about how the employee intends to use it is unlikely to eradicate the possibility of being impacted.  

If an employee has travelled to a country and its traffic light category has since changed (e.g., green to amber), the employer’s response should be dependent upon whether the employee’s role permits remote working.

In this example, the employee would be required to spend 10 days in quarantine when returning to the country, despite rules being different at the beginning of their holiday. Providing that the employee can work remotely, this should not present an issue to the employer, who can deal with the matter by allowing 10 days of remote work.

Where an employee is not able to work remotely, they must continue to follow the quarantine rules set by the government. The same also applies if the holiday involves a country which becomes red on the traffic light system, at which point the individual is instructed to spend time in a hotel for quarantine reasons.

In these situations, the employer should consider what constitutes the appropriate payment for this period. This is most likely to fall in line with the appropriate sick pay scheme that the employee is entitled to.

If you have employees who are affected by travel rule changes, or you anticipate that this may be a possibility, AHR Consultants can help.

For bespoke advice on how to manage concerns about foreign travel or any other employment issue, call us today on 0345 076 2288 or send us an email.