One area we are being asked about a lot at the moment, and which is likely to be on your minds as employers, is the travel related quarantine period after somebody has been abroad. Especially around how you can accommodate this within the business.
As you may have seen on the news at the weekend, it was announced on Saturday that anybody travelling from Spain would be required to quarantine for 14 days on their return – with effect from the following day. It is estimated that this affected 1.8 million holidays, many of these individuals would have been expecting to go back to work on their return, who suddenly needed an extra 14 days off.
The government has made it clear that the quarantine rules relating to individual countries will be updated continually, and other countries are likely to be added over the coming months. This means the situation could occur again, where your staff suddenly need additional time off for quarantine (or are unable to fly home as planned).
So…what are the options?
The legal stance is that you should be “flexible” and “reasonable”. Many staff may already have trips planned. However, it is sensible to have a plan in place to mitigate the effects of the situation.
It is possible to decline annual leave requests if you cannot accommodate a 14 day quarantine, however it is important to ensure this is equitable across the organisation, and considering that some staff may have an essential need to travel (i.e. if family are abroad).
Travel insurances are not covering cancellations in a lot of cases, as flights are still running. Lots of people are therefore faced with the choice of cancelling their holiday and losing the money, or taking the chance to still travel.
It is therefore much more preferable to make arrangements with staff and look proactively at how the situation can be managed.
There are only 4 options for staff who need to quarantine on return:
- Work from home – if they can work from home, this would be the best option during the quarantine period
- Annual leave – if they have annual leave available, and are happy to use it so as to continue to be paid for this period then that is fine
- Unpaid leave – they could take the 14 days as unpaid leave, if working from home or annual leave is not an option
- Other paid leave – perhaps they have time owing, or can make up their hours further on. They may be able to do a mixture of annual leave, time off in lieu (toil) or making up hours
Staff will not be eligible for sick pay (SSP) during this period unless they develop symptoms.
It would be a breach of the CJRS (furlough) scheme to place staff on furlough for this period, unless there was genuinely no work available for them.
Staff may not understand why they can not be paid SSP or furlough when they are following government advice, at the moment the advice is that SSP and furlough are paid for individuals who are affected by illness or job losses. Staff who choose to travel during this time must do so knowing the possible consequences and risks of quarantine on return.
Who needs to quarantine?
The only people who need to quarantine are those who have travelled. Other members of the household do not, unless they have also travelled.
If the individual should then develop symptoms, the household would then need to isolate, in accordance with the guidelines.
Is anyone exempt?
There are some key roles which are exempt from quarantine, however this is restricted to very specific categories such as some airline/cargo workers, seasonal agricultural workers, specialist aerospace personnel, those regularly travelling for work, and some healthcare professionals. The full list can be accessed here: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/coronavirus-covid-19-travellers-exempt-from-uk-border-rules/coronavirus-covid-19-travellers-exempt-from-uk-border-rules
What should you do now?
- Discourage business related travel at the present time, unless essential
- Proactively discuss annual leave plans with your employees so you are aware of whether they will be abroad, and explain their options in advance should they need to quarantine
- Remain flexible and aware that quarantine rules can be, and indeed are, changed at short notice
- Familiarise yourself with the list of countries which can be found here https://www.gov.uk/guidance/coronavirus-covid-19-countries-and-territories-exempt-from-advice-against-all-but-essential-international-travel We recommend you don’t print this list, as it updates constantly so is best viewed online
- Remember that failure to comply with a quarantine requirement can result in a £1000 fine, so it essential that you do not refuse to allow your employees to do so (in effect forcing them to break the law)
The important thing here is to remember that at the moment, there are many countries that are not requiring quarantine and who are on the safe travel list. This means in all likelihood individuals will enjoy their holiday and return with no issues.
However, the more dialogue you can have before annual leave, and the more flexible you and your employees can be to finding a solution which suits both parties, we hope it will be easier to manage the situation should it occur.
Written by Tracey Salisbury MCIPD