Whilst many employees are cancelling foreign holidays, or have already missed them, as lockdown lifts slightly, there are also many who are still wanting to travel abroad.
These are tending to be more likely to be those with family overseas, who they understandably wish to see, but now that quarantine of 14 days has been confirmed for those returning to the UK from elsewhere, how should this be handled in the workplace?
Here are some tips to getting ahead of this situation if you have workers looking to travel this summer:
Be as flexible as you can
Lockdown has been pretty miserable for most people and especially for those who haven’t seen family for a long time, it is understandable to want to get away. Similarly there may be those who have had holidays booked for a while but who are wrangling with travel companies or insurers and won’t get their money back if they don’t go. Whilst this isn’t your problem, if you can possibly accommodate people going abroad, it would be nice to do so.
Where it is possible for someone’s role to be done at home, and you could manage quarantine that way without too much disruption, that’s going to be the best solution and will enable employees wishing to travel to do so without losing pay or causing you a problem.
Be clear that leave will be required for quarantine
It’s essential to make sure workers understand that if they are planning to take a trip abroad, they need to bear in mind quarantine when working out how much annual leave to book and when asking for authorisation for the annual leave request.
It’s not as simple as a case of booking two weeks’ annual leave for a fortnight’s holiday. If they know that taking that two-week trip will in fact require the to be absent from work for four weeks, that is the amount of leave they need to request. You are clearly far more likely to be able to accommodate (and to be understanding about!) a request for four weeks off work if you are asked in advance and can discuss whether it is possible.
It is not a case of banning foreign travel or anything of that nature – obviously you cannot prescribe how someone spends their annual leave – but about being clear about what is involved and required, and letting the employee make their decisions.
Accommodating most workers taking a couple of weeks off over the summer period is challenging enough, but if you have a large number of them actually needing four weeks off, then that may simply be impossible to do. In those circumstances you will obviously want to be fair, and it makes sense to decide in advance how you will make these decisions. First come, first served; prioritising those who have booked trips in advance of quarantine being announced; or even prioritising those who wish to visit vulnerable family members may all be options you want to consider.
Clarity and transparency about decision-making significantly reduces the likelihood of complaints of unfairness, even in circumstances where people don’t like the decisions being made.
Paying staff during quarantine
One option to accommodate pay during a period of quarantine, if the person cannot work from home, would be to allow them to take additional annual leave, but of course they may not have enough left, or may want to save some of it for later in the year.
You could agree unpaid leave, but what about sick pay? The Statutory Sick Pay provisions were amended earlier this year with the effect that employees who are self-isolating can receive statutory sick pay even when they are not physically ill themselves.
But does that include quarantine? It seems unlikely. The changes to the relevant regulations are quite specific that self-isolation is included when it is because the person has symptoms, lives with someone who has symptoms, are shielding or have been notified through the NHS test and trace system that they have been in contact with an infected person. So unless the person in quarantine also meets one of those criteria, they should not be entitled to SSP (unless of course revised guidance is released by the Government in due course).
However fair you are, however much you prioritise people most affected, and however flexible you are, you may still find employees who book a normal amount of annual leave and then don’t turn up for work on return because they are quarantined. If you know that’s where they are, it’s not really an AWOL situation, but it would be unauthorised leave if it has not been prearranged, and obviously can be very disruptive.
Once they’re quarantined they cannot obviously be dragged into work, but it would be fine if they have knowingly taken unauthorised leave to discipline them for it on their return. Just be clear in advance that that is the position. It doesn’t help you manage in their extended absence but hopefully may deter future offenders. And certainly it would be fine not to pay them in these circumstances.
Turning up for work anyway
You may have staff who are keen to go abroad, can’t work from home on their return and cannot afford to take unpaid leave, therefore either tell you in advance they will be coming into work anyway, or do so on return.
You have a duty of care to the rest of your workforce, and also potentially to customers, service users or other external individuals your staff member may come into contact with. If someone who should be quarantining turns up to work, you should send them home on the basis that they are not fit for work, just as you would if they were displaying symptoms.
Quarantine is an instruction from the Government, not a suggestion or a recommendation, and you must do your bit to ensure anyone who works for you complies with it.
Get ahead of the game
The most important tip is to consider what your position is going to be on this issue as soon as you can, and make sure it is clear to employees. You do not want a situation where staff have booked trips or flights based on believing it will be ok and then have to tell them it isn’t, or deal with absences you haven’t planned for.
If you’d like some advice on managing workers considering foreign travel, do get in touch.