Should companies urgently decide on a policy for employees travelling abroad this summer?

Enoch Evans LLP

The UK government’s traffic light system has made foreign travel almost completely unpredictable for employees and employers alike. Katie Baker-Clifton, a Senior Solicitor in the employment law team at Enoch Evans LLP, shares her advice for business owners pondering whether to instate a new company policy to address the issue.

The 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 before being moved to the amber list only a few weeks later.

The government has now announced that adults who have had two vaccinations 14 days prior to returning to the UK, along with all under 18’s, can travel to amber list countries and not quarantine on arrival back in the UK after 19 July 2021 – although people will still need to take a covid test prior to entry.

It is important to note that each country has its 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 situation?

A country could have its green or amber status changed at any time, not just during updates that are currently taking place every three weeks. If a country moves to the new ‘amber plus’, red status, 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 typical seven or 14-day holiday plan could result in nearly four weeks of absence from work due to annual leave and time in quarantine. Businesses will of course need to ensure that they have enough cover to get the work done, so 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 remains in place until 16 August. 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 will happen in these circumstances. Telling employees what stance the company will take in advance of them making any new travel booking makes a new policy fair for everyone. Employees 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. By encouraging staff to take annual leave it will allow people to re-charge and show appreciation for how hard staff have worked during the pandemic. In addition, preventing employees from taking annual leave could be a breach of the Working Time Regulations.

Deciding now can avoid disputes, interruptions to work in need of completion and any potential deterioration in working relationships. It is to be expected that employees will start to consider travelling abroad over the summer and planning for this now will avoid unexpected absenteeism, missed work deadlines and possible disputes over pay. Also, if an ad hoc approach is taken there is a risk that employers will be exposed to a claims against them.

For further information, contact Enoch Evans LLP on 01922 720333 (Walsall Office) or 0121 7252293 (Sutton Coldfield Office).