Should companies urgently decide on a policy for employees taking foreign holidays this summer?
Current travel advice
The traffic light system for foreign travel resumed on 17 May 2021 and is being reviewed every three weeks. The Government has categorised countries according to their Covid-19 risk level (based on rates of transmission and the progress of the country's vaccination programme) and has placed them on either the 'red', 'amber', or 'green' list. Everyone will recall Portugal initially being on the "green list" and a flood of bookings being made, for Portugal to then be moved to the amber list only a few weeks later.
The government has now announced that adults who have had 2 vaccinations 14 days prior to returning to the UK, along with all under 18's can travel to amber list countries and when returning to the UK after 4am on 19th July 2021, will not need to quarantine (although will still need to take a covid test prior to entry). It is important to note that each country has their own entry requirements.
Those who are not vaccinated will still need to quarantine after returning from an amber list country.
Why do companies need to address this?
A country could be changed from "green or amber" status at any time, not just in the 3-week window for review ((approximately) 14th July, 4th August, 25th August). If a country turns red or if an employee tests positive for COVID-19 before they return to the UK, they will have to quarantine, either abroad or in the UK. This means that a planned 7 or 14-day holiday, could result in nearly 4 weeks of absence from work (annual leave plus quarantine). Companies will of course need to ensure that they have enough cover to get the work done; it is advisable for them to also clarify with their staff what leave and pay arrangements will need to be taken for any unexpected quarantine.
Furthermore, the requirement for fully vaccinated people to self-isolate if a close contact tests positive for Covid remains in place until August 16th. Therefore, self-isolation continues to be a problem.
Why is making a policy now so important?
Companies would be prudent to spell out to employees exactly what would happen in these circumstances. Telling employees what stance the company will take in advance of them making any new travel booking makes that policy fair. Employee's may also need to plan financially as not all leave is paid.
Organisations need to balance the need for work to be done and having adequate cover, with encouraging staff to take annual leave (preventing employees from taking annual leave could be a breach of the Working Time Regulations) that will allow them to re-charge and appreciating how hard staff have worked during the pandemic.
Deciding now can avoid disputes and interruptions to the work to be completed and any possible deterioration in working relationships. It is foreseeable that employees will start to consider travelling abroad over the summer and so planning for this now will avoid unexpected absenteeism, missed work deadlines and possible disputes over pay. Furthermore, if an ad hoc approach is taken 'as and when it arises' there is a potential risk that an employer could be exposed to a potential claim against them.
If you would like to discuss any of the issues raised in this article please contact Mrs Katie Baker-Clifton or Mr Stephen Nixon on 01922 720333 (Walsall) or on 0121 355 2336 (Sutton Coldfield) who will be happy to meet with you in person at one of the firm's offices, at your business address or alternatively if you prefer we would be pleased to speak with you virtually using your preferred video conferencing platform.
*for the purposes of this article, the term "quarantine" includes self-isolation