The pandemic has been a tremendously difficult and unusual time for everyone and for months September was pinned as being the time we would all gain some sort of normality. However, as people return from holidays, both in the UK and further afield and with the rise in coronavirus cases bringing the reintroduction of the ‘6 people rule’, the possibility of quarantine seems to be part of this ‘new normality’. Given the significant potential impact on businesses and individuals how best can quarantine and the associated uncertainty as to which country may be “next on the list” be navigated?
This question is of particular importance to many of my clients within the education sector who are desperate to ensure that pupils’ return to school runs as smoothly as possible which is, of course, dependent upon teachers and staff being back at school ready for the commencement of term and not stuck in some far flung corner of the world or in quarantine.
Since the chaos that ensued in July when Spain was hastily added to the quarantine list giving holiday-makers less than 48 hours to return to the UK before having to quarantine for 14 days, the question of whether individuals should have to cancel or postpone their holidays has been a hot topic both in schools and businesses. It is also an issue I am acutely aware of having cancelled a long looked forward to foreign holiday and substituted it for a week’s camping in sunny Bedfordshire in order to ensure my children could start school.
We have been advising many of our School clients to put a policy in place that clearly sets out their expectations regarding how their employees should approach the taking and booking of holidays. As a recommended minimum the clearly stated expectation should be that, save in exceptional and unforeseen circumstances, the onus is upon the employee to establish that their return to work following their return from holiday will not be delayed due to quarantine. If the employee is aware, before departing on holiday that this will not be the case and it is not possible for them to work from home, (which should be discussed in advance), then they should take steps to cancel or re-arrange their plans.
This guidance is readily transferable to the wider business sector and with the obligation to quarantine expected to be around for a while yet, employers must be prepared ahead of forthcoming holiday “hot spots” such as October half term, Christmas and even Spring half term. See below some pointers to help guide you in the right direction.
- Put a policy in place that clearly states the businesses expectations. Explain what will happen if someone goes away knowing they will have to quarantine. For example, an employee doesn’t have the right to be paid and so if they can’t work from home, they risk losing two weeks wage.
- Show empathy and flexibility where possible. People have been through a lot over the last six months and they need a break. Situations can and will arise where the employee has been caught out by quarantine obligations being imposed whilst they were already on holiday. With minimum disruption could the employee work from home while quarantining?
- Encourage open and honest communication with your employees. If they are thinking about going away, make it clear that they must discuss their plans with their manager before booking anywhere.
- Encourage staff to secure appropriate insurance cover and book holidays which can be transferred or postponed without penalty.
- Keep a close eye on the Home Office website. What countries will require quarantine following a visit and which will not?
- Have any of your staff already booked forthcoming foreign holidays? If they have, do you know where they are travelling to? Could quarantine rules be applicable and how would that impact your business if the employee has to quarantine? Do you have contingency plans in plan to cover their absence if they can’t work from home? In such instances, start a conversation with the employee now to understand what their intentions are and whether it is possible for them to vary their plans.
Legally, there are challenges around whether an employer can dictate to an employee what they do in their spare time or where they go on holiday, (and thus whether disciplinary action can be taken should an employee choose to ignore government guidance and travel to locations which will require quarantine on their return).
However, setting out the employer’s expectations, the burden it could place on colleagues if the employee is quarantined, the potential damage to the provision of service by the employer, (and thus everyone’s long terms interests), as well as the financial impact on the employee themselves, should help minimise the risk of colleagues taking holiday to countries which require quarantine on return.
If you need advice on what you can put in place to help your business and employees through this time, call us on 01904 437680 or email email@example.com.