The ‘new normal’ in the workplace – our employment specialists answer your questions

14th September 2020

Employers and employees are having to negotiate unfamiliar situations because of Covid-19 and its long-term effects on the way we work; our Wye Valley employment team answer some of your questions here.

Q – One of our employees is off on holiday next week and has just booked to travel to France, which means they will need to quarantine on their return. Can we stop them travelling?

A – There is nothing to prevent an employer from asking all employees to avoid travel that would lead to a period of quarantine on their return or even from asking a specific employee to change their travel plans, provided that such requests are fair and reasonable. However, an employer does not have the right to demand that an employee does not travel to a country that would mean they had to quarantine on their return.

Where there would be a genuine business impact if an employee must quarantine for two weeks after travelling abroad, and where an employee is not able to work from home, there would be a stronger justification for requesting that they do not travel. We would recommend that employers have a clear policy on travel and communicate this to all staff which will help to avoid uncertainty and problems.

If an employee is adamant that they will still travel, despite a request not to, then the employer could refuse to authorise the holiday request in the first place. Where a holiday request has been authorised by the employer already, that employer can still give notice to the employee not to take holiday at a specific time – the employer must give at least twice as much notice as the holiday itself. For example, where an employee has booked five days of annual leave, the employer will need to provide the employee with notice not to take holiday at least ten days before the leave is due to start.

It is also worth bearing in mind that if an employee does travel abroad and is then subject to quarantine, then unless they are working from home, there is no automatic entitlement to pay.

Q – Can I insist that all staff return to the office now?

A – Government ministers have made clear that, from September onwards, they will actively promote returning to the office. As long as a workplace is deemed Covid safe, the decision over whether employees should return to work ultimately rests with the employer and a refusal to return could result in disciplinary action.

Employers have a duty to ensure that the workplace is safe (i.e. Covid secure). This includes completing a risk assessment and implementing safety measures adhering to government guidelines around making the workplace safe (this guidance varies in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland).

As part of getting staff back to the workplace, we would recommend that employers communicate with and reassure their employees regarding the safety measures that have been implemented.

Employers should be mindful of the circumstances of their individual employees. Where there is a valid reason for someone being reluctant to work at the office, such as being deemed high risk by a GP or living with someone who is high risk, employers should take the time to consult with such employees and see whether their concerns can be addressed and overcome through any further safety measures or alternatives such agreeing to a change to home working.

For advice or information, please contact Guy Hollebon at [email protected] or on 07860 924 361.

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