There has been a lot of media coverage around the government introducing mandatory self-isolation periods for travellers coming into the UK from other countries (the lists of countries changing regularly), but there is little guidance for employers in relation to this situation. In this article, ViewHR will outline what action we recommend for employers to take in relation to managing both holiday and isolation periods for employees planning foreign holidays over the coming months.
What do you need to do to ensure that your business is ready to manage this complex and ever-changing situation?
Firstly, you need to ensure that you have the right policies and procedures in place. This includes sickness absence management, holiday approval to include disclosing any requirement and plans for isolation and processes for addressing an employee who cannot return as planned.
You will need to ensure that there is clear, consistent, and transparent management of holiday booking and approval protocols in order to avoid any business risk of unfair treatment.
The communication of any changes early is crucial. Your employees need to be aware of the company’s policies and procedures and you should clearly outline the decisions around quarantine periods. Your employees need to be informed prior to their holidays of any policy requirements or changes to reduce any post-holiday disputes.
Secondly, you need to define and communicate what your employees will be paid during the period of self-isolation. This period of absence can be unpaid. Unlike other types of mandatory self-isolation, travel-related isolation is not treated as incapacity for SSP (Statutory Sick Pay) purposes and therefore SSP the employee is not eligible for SSP.
You can legally allow your employees to use holiday to cover the period of isolation should they request it, and employers can also request employees to take holiday for the period of isolation. However, in the latter situation, employers must provide twice as much notice as the holiday period they require an employee to take.
In both situations, you need to ensure that you are not impacting legislative requirements such as the working time directive regarding annual leave and you should ensure that your employee will not find themselves in a situation where they are unable to take rest from work for long periods across the holiday year.
Also, you should consider the reasonableness test outlined by HMRC during furlough as a benchmark as to whether the decisions you are making are the right ones. The guidance stated that if employers require employees to take holiday during furlough, they should “consider whether any restrictions the worker is under, such as the need to socially distance or self-isolate, would prevent the worker from resting, relaxing and enjoying leisure time, which is the fundamental purpose of holiday.”
It is important to remain in communication with your employees during any periods of isolation as if your employee becomes ill or develops COVID symptoms during quarantine, they will become eligible for SSP and therefore their payment structure would change.
You should make it clear that any policies and procedures regarding how and when to report sickness still apply.
Next, we look at the impact isolation periods have on disciplinary procedures. Are there any situations where travel-related self-isolation would be treated as an unauthorised absence?
Travel related self-isolation is a legal obligation and therefore should not necessarily be treated as unauthorised absence. It would not be reasonable for the employer to require an employee to come into work during this period (employees can continue to work from home if the employee is permitted to work at home).
Finally, there is the delicate issue as to whether a business has the right to cancel an employee’s holiday if the potential for isolation would cause detriment to the business.
Employers do have the legal right to cancel holidays that have been previously approved. Similar to the holiday request process, the employer must give at least the same amount of notice to the employee as the length of the holiday itself.
However, employers must apply the reasonableness test again when thinking through the tough decision to cancel an employee’s holiday. If the request is unreasonable or not universally applied, it could potentially lead to a constructive dismissal claim by reason of discrimination or breach of trust and confidence.
In this instance, the reasonableness test would be relevant. Other considerations could be as broad ranging as financial loss, personal impact, wellbeing and morale.
It is best to get advice if it might be necessary to cancel or change any planned holiday. Communication and consultation are key.
We advise that employers stay up to date with the changes in Government guidance. If you have any questions or concerns regarding the impacts of quarantine periods and managing annual leave, then please get in touch with a member of the ViewHR team today for an initial discussion: firstname.lastname@example.org | +44(0)1425 205390 | viewhr.co.uk
ViewHR are UK based and provide flexible HR support and guidance combined with employment law consultancy.