With the current traffic light system in place for travelling abroad, most Brits will have to self-isolate at home or quarantine in a hotel when they return. As this is generally for 10 days dependent on the country and whether it’s in red, amber or green, it’s important to keep an eye on the changing Government guidance. We review current self isolation guidance and provide practical advice for employers managing HR issues.
There are many reasons why someone may need to travel abroad, from holidays to business travel to managing personal affairs or emergencies.
What to do when employees need to self isolate after travelling abroad?
Can your employees work from home? If so, there’s no problem and employers should allow their employees to work from home once they return if they are required to isolate. If they have to quarantine in a hotel, tell them to be organised and if it’s possible, take equipment with them and ensure they have Wifi to work from. Working from a hotel may be more difficult if the equipment needed renders it not possible.
However you should consider that if you have a mixed workforce and you authorise it for those who can work from home, but decline for those who can’t; if those who can work from home are predominantly of a different sex, ethnic background etc. (for example predominantly English office staff and a high Polish warehouse workforce) you may be indirectly discriminating.
Self Isolation Guidance
There are many industries where it is not possible to work from home, and this is where employers need to be creative in looking at what options they have available for their employees. Options that could be considered include:
- Additional annual leave to be taken
- Agreed additional leave that is unpaid for the resulting isolation period
- Special paid leave for their isolation period (it would be rare for companies to agree to pay for the extended time off required however, if the travel is for business reasons relating to their job then it would be reasonable to ensure it’s paid and not make employees use annual leave or take unpaid leave).
Employees will not be entitled to SSP (statutory sick pay) for any isolation period unless they are genuinely sick or have COVID symptoms.
What should employers do if an employee requests annual leave so that they can travel abroad?
The chances are, most employers won’t be inundated with requests as most people will be deterred from travelling if they have to take unpaid leave afterwards. Avoid a blanket ban on employees travelling abroad. This rule could disproportionately affect protected groups who travel abroad to see family or celebrate religious festivals. This could open you up to discrimination claims.
When authorising leave…
- Could the employee shorten their trip? For example instead of 2 weeks holiday plus isolation, could they reduce it to 1 week to avoid a much lengthier period of time off work?
- If you refuse a request & have suspicions someone will take it as sick leave instead, advise them in advance that any period of sick leave will be treated with suspicion (however this may be tricky to do in reality given the employee will likely obtain a fit note for the time taken, especially if they say they had COVID symptoms, therefore this tact is more a deterrent than something you’d be able to treat as a disciplinary issue without more evidence than general suspicion & coincidence).
- If the travel is for dependency leave then you must allow it (i.e. to arrange a funeral abroad for their next of kin).
- Be understanding of those requesting to travel for important religious festivals or to say their final goodbyes to a sick relative.
Changing Traffic Light Status
What happens if you authorise leave to someone who is visiting a country where isolation is not required upon return but things change before they go or whilst they’re there? For example Portugal has recently changed from green to amber… we would suggest being very clear on your rules upfront when authorising the leave (ideally put it in writing to the employee) that if the rules change before they go or whilst they’re there, any period of isolation requiring additional time off work will be unpaid.
Self Isolation Guidance & Key Take Away Points
- Communication is the most important thing – your employees need to be very clear what your stance is when leave is authorised.
- We’d advise sending communication to staff to tell them they must inform you if they intend to travel abroad during any period of annual leave as and when they request it so that you can be clear with them on your expectations.
- Treat each request case by case; get all the details of why they’re travelling, what country they’re travelling to and for how long.
Wirehouse clients should contact the HR Advice Line for specific advice particularly if you’re planning to refuse a request. If you are not a Wirehouse client and need guidance surrounding employees who need to self isolate get in touch with our Employment Law team today.
Article written by Jo Gill, Wirehouse Employment Law/ HR Consultant & GDPR Practioner