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Can you stop your employees holidaying in amber and red-list countries?

Sophie Forrest - Forrest HR by Sophie Forrest - Forrest HR
Managing Director - Forrest HR

Despite the government setting out its roadmap out of coronavirus restrictions in late February , the past few months have shown us that the pathway out of restrictions is going to be far less straightforward than many of us had hoped for. One area of difficulty is going to be managing travel in and out of the UK, with the government relying on a traffic-light system dictating the restrictions on visiting different countries. With the majority of travel destinations requiring a ten-day quarantine period, you may be confused as to where you stand in managing your staff’s foreign travel plans. Luckily, Sophie Forrest of Forrest HR is on hand to let you know how to manage your employees’ annual leave this summer.

Even without a global pandemic causing havoc for UK businesses, the summer period can be a tricky time for employers. Summer is a popular time for holidaymakers wanting to go abroad, which can often create a situation where a large proportion of your workforce want to go on holiday at the same time, which can be detrimental to your business. In all likelihood, you’re probably going to have fewer annual leave requests this summer, as many people will put off going abroad until there are fewer Covid restrictions. However, some employees will decide to go abroad despite these restrictions, creating an additional pressure of managing your staff who may wish to travel to a country requiring quarantine upon their return.

What are the current travel restrictions in the UK?

The government is relying on a traffic light system to set out its restrictions on international travel, with each colour representing a different level of restrictions:

  • Green: These are the areas that are currently least affected by Covid and, as such, have the fewest restrictions upon arrival back in the UK. If your employees return from a green country, they will simply have to take a test two days after they arrive back in the UK and, provided it comes back negative, they will not need to take any further action.
  • Amber : Those wishing to travel to an ‘Amber’ country will need to take tests before arriving in the UK and then quarantine in their home for the next ten days, taking two Covid tests during this window.
  • Red : These represent the countries that are currently the worst affected by the pandemic. Technically, people should not be traveling to these areas but, if they need to, they will have to quarantine in a ‘managed hotel’ upon return to the UK.

As it currently stands, there are only 11 countries that are listed as a ‘green’ territory, meaning that if your employees travel abroad, the majority of them are going to be looking at an quarantine period afterwards – be that in a hotel or at home.

Can I stop my employees from traveling to amber and red countries?

As an employer, you have the right to approve or reject when your employees take their annual leave, however, there is currently no law which enables you to have any say in where your staff do or don’t travel to. However, if your business requires employees to be physically present in the office, it will be far from ideal if your employees holiday in a country that requires a ten-day quarantine period upon return.

However, it is worth considering whether it will be good for you and your business in the long run if you place heavy restrictions on your employees’ ability to travel, as this might dampen team morale and lead to resentment. Instead, it might be more beneficial for you to adopt a more flexible approach, genuinely trying to accommodate to the best of your ability your employees’ travel plans.

If your staff have been predominantly working from home throughout the pandemic, this will be relatively easy for you to achieve because, provided they have access to the necessary work equipment, they should be able to work remotely during their quarantine period. This will, of course, be easier if they visit an amber-list country and can quarantine at home; if they go to a red-list country and are in a quarantine hotel on their return, this may mean they will have to take their laptop and any other resources, such as client files, on holiday with them (which may also have GDPR implications). Open dialogue and forward planning will be necessary to manage this successfully.

Advice for businesses who require their employees to be physically present

However, there are going to be sectors where a physical presence in the workplace or on a specific site is necessary; for example, it wouldn’t be possible for a builder to ‘work remotely’ upon arrival from an amber or red country. In these instances, you could consider one of the following solutions:

  • Requiring employees to take annual leave to quarantine: One option is to permit employees to travel to restricted zones but ensure that they use annual leave if they have to quarantine when they return.
  • Promote the idea of carrying over holiday: The government has introduced regulations which allows employees to carry over their holiday for two years because of the pandemic; if you remind your employees of this policy, they may decide to postpone their holiday until such a time as they don’t have to quarantine upon arrival.
  • Implement a temporary annual leave policy: If you’re really worried about being left without enough staff as lots of them try to travel abroad, then it is possible to implement a temporary Covid annual leave policy. This could provide, for example, that all employees must quarantine upon return and that this quarantine period will be unpaid.

Dealing with travel traffic light changes while employees are abroad

Although your employee may travel to a ‘green’ country, there is no guarantee that its rating won’t have changed by the time that they return. Although the government usually gives travellers advance notice of a restriction change, there are still going to be instances where your employees don’t make it back before this happens.

It is therefore a good idea to provide all holidaying employees, regardless of where they are travelling to, with all the necessary equipment they will need to work from home upon their arrival; this will prevent you from being short-staffed if there is a sudden change in restrictions while they are away.

Maintaining a steady workforce during the summer

Covid or not, the summer is always a busy period for annual leave requests, with employees wanting to make the most of the long days and hot weather. This is why I recommend having a flexible but efficient annual leave policy in place regardless of whether there is a global pandemic going on! This could include:

  • Requiring advanced notice for holidays: It’s a good idea to send out a reminder to employees before summer starts, requiring them to submit their requests for any holiday they wish to take. This will enable you to plan in advance for low staffing levels and also give employees advanced warning to find a different time to holiday if you are unable to accept their request.
  • A clear policy for handing out annual leave: This could be first-come-first-serve or a yearly rota which alternates who gets to request annual leave first. However you decide to manage annual leave, the key is to stick to it.
  • Being flexible: Ultimately, if you’re able to accommodate your employees’ annual leave requests – within reason – then you’re probably going to be rewarded with hard-working and grateful employees who benefit your business.

Coronavirus has created lots of new challenges for employers, including the implications of travel restrictions on annual leave. But with the right policies and procedures in place, you should be able to manage the coming months in a way that is beneficial to both you and your employees.

MEET THE EXPERT

Sophie Forrest runs Forrest HR, which provides HR, training and development and health and wellbeing support to small and medium-sized businesses across the South East and London.  

    

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