Julie Bann, an Employment solicitor and Partner at London-based Sharpe Pritchard believes that employers should plan carefully for the UK’s new quarantine regime for most international arrivals.
The system, which came into effect from Monday 8 June 2020, means that unless a person qualifies for an exemption, they must isolate for at least two weeks after arriving in the UK, irrespective of whether they are usually resident here.
While much of the attention that has been focused on the measure has revolved around the implications for airlines and the travel industry, there are also important consequences for employers, even those whose staff do not usually travel overseas for work.
Julie said: “The Foreign Office currently advises against ‘all but essential’ travel overseas, but there are still circumstances where it is essential for employees to travel, whether in a professional or personal capacity, such as for family or business emergencies.
“There is also the possibility that employees may look to take non-essential trips during periods of annual leave that result in them being unable to return to the workplace for an additional two weeks.
“By putting plans in place, employers will be able to ensure that they treat employees consistently and by communicating these plans clearly, they will be able to mitigate the chances of a dispute or unnecessary disruption to their operations.”
She added: “Employers need to consider how they will react to a range of situations including whether there are any circumstances, which could justify requiring an employee to travel for work, taking into account the statutory duty to provide a safe system of work. They might also include what amounts to essential travel in other circumstances, such as holidays and compassionate trips for funerals or to visit seriously ill loved-ones.
“Employers should prepare and then communicate a clear and consistent policy on how leave will be treated including consideration for compassionate trips to attend funerals to holiday recommended to alleviate mental health concerns. Issues to factor in include your decision on whether the period of leave and subsequent period of quarantine will be paid, unpaid or taken as annual leave, whether the ability to work from home makes a difference to how leave is treated and ultimately whether the employer is prepared to discipline an employee who takes non-essential travel, knowing that they will be unavailable for work on their return for two weeks.
“There is no set answer and, as in all employment situations, a fair process is fact-specific. However, having clear guidance, setting out a fair policy and communicating that policy will be a vital starting point,” added Julie.