Managing Employee Holiday Requests for Travel Abroad During COVID-19

As a nation we are in a period of relief and celebration! As national lockdown restrictions begin to lift, vaccines roll out, and foreign travel begins to take off, many are optimistic about making holiday plans. Considering this, most employers will be experiencing an influx of holiday requests but may also be cautious on how to approach handling such requests when considering COVID-19 still a threat, and the disruption holidays abroad could have for a business and its workforce due to quarantine rules.  

So, what can an employer do to manage COVID-19 concerns whilst balancing the safety and happiness of their employees?  

  • Can an employer stop an employee from travelling (or visiting a certain country)? 

No, an employer cannot stop their employee from travelling abroad. However, employers can cancel an already-approved request for annual leave, as long as the minimum required notice is given – this is equal to the amount of leave that is to be taken. This should only be viewed as a last resort, particularly given that employees could suffer a financial loss from cancelling holiday plans. 

Employers cannot stop an employee from visiting a certain country. It is important to be careful about disproportionately cancelling or rescheduling the leave of employees planning to visit perceived COVID ‘hotspot’ areas. This could be raised as a discrimination issue against employees from certain ethnic backgrounds or with family in given locations. 

  • If an employee is required to quarantine upon returning, do employers have to pay them for this period? 

The Local Government Association (LGA) has published guidance which suggests that employers should first consider facilitating the quarantining employee to work from home. Employers should also consider redeploying them to an alternative role that can be worked from home during this period, if their original role is not suitable.  

If this is not possible and the employee will be required to take additional leave, employers are encouraged to be reasonable. There should be a clear, measured discussion between both parties to ensure an understanding is reached – it would also be beneficial to put the agreement in writing, if possible. Every individual case will be different, and employers should consider this when making a decision, particularly in extenuating circumstances in which an employee has suffered a loss and was travelling for funeral arrangements abroad.  

  • How can employers protect their businesses in future? 

To combat potential concerns that may arise in future, it is recommended for a business to create or amend a travel policy to include the possibility of travel restrictions and outline how they will be handled in future. This way, employees can make an informed decision about travelling and booking leave, and will have a full understanding of company policy from the get-go. 

LGA Quarantine Advice can be found here

If you would like advice or assistance with travel policies or any other HR-related issue, email us today at [email protected]