We are now well into the holiday season, and employees, after over a year of being grounded, may be excited at the thought of a holiday abroad. However, what does this mean for employers?
The current restrictions
The current restrictions are based on a traffic-light system of green, amber and red. From 19 July 2021, adults who were fully vaccinated in the UK (along with children under 18) will no longer have to self-isolate after visiting those countries on the ‘amber’ list. This does not include France.
Frequently asked questions
You can refuse to allow an employee to take holiday on a certain date if there are legitimate business reasons to do so; For example, if there is a particularly busy period coming up, there are already other members of staff who have booked holiday on the same date, or the request was not made in enough time in accordance with your holiday policy. However, you must be mindful that you have a duty to ensure employees make use of their holiday allowance to ensure your employee’s health and wellbeing.
It may be that you need to update your holiday policy to cover such circumstances.
There is no automatic right for an employer to know where an employee is going on holiday prior to approving a request, so if you want to ask employees where they are going, this should form part of any internal holiday policy. You may also wish to include your rules for recording covid travel-related absences and pay during any such period.
Your employee will need time off for Self-Isolation and possibly time off sick if they are poorly.
If your employee has followed all rules, both in this country and in the country of their destination, your employee should not be penalised for taking time off as a result of contracting Covid-19. This does not mean that your employee will need to be paid for this time off (contracts and internal policies should be checked), nor that it would stop any absence management procedure being implemented. However, contracting Covid-19 when on holiday should not generally be considered as grounds for disciplinary action.
Much will depend on the circumstances when the employee went abroad. If the employee knew they had to isolate but failed to tell you, any absence may be considered an unauthorised absence and you may be able to commence an absence management process or disciplinary process. If, for example, your employee went to an amber country which changed to red during their stay, this is a situation beyond their control and there should be no repercussions.
Best practise would be to have a revised policy communicated to all employees; this should cover the holiday booking process considering Covid-19 implications, including the need for employees to consider where they are travelling to and the need to request additional authorised time off for a quarantine period.
You must pay your employee at least Statutory Sick Pay (‘SSP’) if they can’t work because they are self-isolating for the following reasons:
In the case of SSP, they are entitled to be paid for every day they are off work. The usual rule that the first 3 days off are unpaid does not apply.
If you offer your employees enhanced company sick pay, they may be entitled to this pay during a period of self-isolation.
If your employee is self-isolating after travelling abroad and cannot work from home, that employee is not entitled to SSP.
Word of warning
As this is a very new situation, the Employment Tribunal is yet to consider all issues associated with Covid-19. Any advice above is given based on government guidance and previous decisions.
One decision that has been made by the Employment Tribunal related to an employee who attended his sister’s wedding in Italy on 9 and 10 March 2020. On 9 March, Italy went into lockdown. Despite remaining in Italy, the Claimant had made every effort to work on his mobile and laptop. On 11 March, the employee was dismissed for failing to follow company procedures and taking unauthorised leave.
The Employment Tribunal held that the Claimant was automatically unfairly dismissed. This is because the principal reason for the dismissal was that the employee, believing himself to be in imminent danger from the pandemic, took appropriate steps to protect himself from danger.
If you have any queries about employee holidays during Covid-19, or if you require assistance reviewing and amending your policies, please contact one of our specialist employment lawyers.
This article aims to supply general information, but it is not intended to constitute advice. Every effort is made to ensure that the law referred to is correct at the date of publication and to avoid any statement which may mislead. However, no duty of care is assumed to any person and no liability is accepted for any omission or inaccuracy. Always seek advice specific to your own circumstances. Fraser Dawbarns LLP are always happy to provide such advice.
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