This was published in October 2020 and is subject to further updates in accordance with the government and Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) advice and guidance.
With the arrival of October half term and with the festive holidays approaching, employers may wish to be clear with their staff on the impact of any planned overseas travel during any holiday period.
The potential need for employees to quarantine upon their return to the UK presents a number of issues for employers to consider, both from an employment and operational perspective.
Here we look at the position related to overseas travel and the steps employers should take to prevent staff (where possible) from being absent from work due to quarantine restrictions.
What is the current position on overseas travel?
The FCO is still advising against ‘all but essential’ international travel. As such, those arriving in the UK from overseas are required to provide contact information and undergo a 14 day quarantine period if they have been to a country that is not on the list of low risk destinations where a ‘travel corridor’ is in place.
This list is under constant review in line with Covid-19 infection rates and, as we have all seen with the likes of Spain, can change very quickly.
The list of countries on the travel corridor list for England can be located here.
What steps can employers take to reduce staff absence due to the need to quarantine?
We recommend that employers take the following steps:-
- Inform staff of the current government and FCO advice and guidance on overseas travel and the quarantine requirements. In particular, remind staff that they should not visit a destination that is deemed high risk.
- Ask staff to regularly check the government and FCO advice and guidance (particularly in advance of travel) so that they can make an informed decision in respect of their travel plans.
- Ask staff to discuss their overseas travel arrangements with a designated individual in the workplace (such as the HR Manager or Head of Department) before travelling. The onus should be clearly placed on the employee to inform the employer of his/her travel plans.
- As part of these discussions, employers will also need to be clear with staff when they are expected to be back at work and what will happen on the employee’s return to the UK; i.e. whether they will be permitted to work from home and receive full pay, or whether they will be required to take a period of unpaid leave. Where possible, this should be agreed with the employee before they travel.
What happens if the quarantine position changes before the employee returns?
It is likely to be unreasonable to seek to prevent staff from travelling to a country which is exempt from the quarantine restrictions at the time of travel. That said, staff should be reminded that they must be available for work upon their return.
As this situation is ever changing, staff should be advised that, if they are subsequently required to quarantine upon their return to the UK (due to a change whilst they are away), the leave may be taken as paid annual leave or unpaid leave, if they cannot work effectively from home.
What is the position with sick pay?
Currently, an employee will not be entitled to statutory sick pay if they are fit to work but unable to do so due to the need to quarantine. If an employee is unwell during a period of quarantine, whether as a result of Covid-19 or some other illness or injury, the employee will then be entitled to sick pay in accordance with their contractual terms.
Employers will, of course, need to take care to ensure that they adopt a consistent approach amongst staff so as to avoid any less favourable treatment, whilst also being alert and sympathetic to individual circumstances.
There may, of course, be some exceptional circumstances which employers will need to assess on a case-by-case basis.
Subject to government advice at the time, employers may wish to consider whether they will require staff to complete a declaration prior to their return to work, indicating:
- which countries they have travelled to, and when
- that they have followed the quarantine measures, where required
- that, to the best of their knowledge, they do not have any symptoms of Covid-19.
Any such declaration should refer to the employer’s privacy notice for staff. This will assist the employer’s record keeping and, importantly, with any assessment the employer needs to make in respect of the level of risk. Employers should be clear with staff in advance that this declaration will be required.
It is hoped that the above steps will seek to reduce staff absence during a holiday period, whilst also ensuring that employers act fairly and reasonably.
For further information on the employment implications of the UK travel quarantine restrictions, please see our previous article, which can be located here. For specific queries, please get in touch.