The UK Government have recently announced that Portugal is now on the Amber country travel list. This decision was made because of the increase in the cases of the variants of coronavirus in Portugal, including the Indian variant.
Tourists from the UK are now requested to avoid visiting this country, and anyone who does choose to visit, will be required to quarantine for ten days when they return back to the UK.
This could cause an issue for both employers and employees, as many employees may have booked a holiday to Portugal when it was on the countries green list. Many were finding themselves over in Portugal at the time of the announcement, and then finding themselves having to quarantine if they were unable to reschedule their flights.
Employers must ensure that their guidance to employees, on the need to quarantine, is clear and that it has to be adhered to, to protect others in the workplace.
Due to this sudden change, employers may benefit from having a policy that deals with these situations, informing / reminding employees that they must adhere to the quarantine rules if they are to travel abroad.
Options for employers to consider for the 10-day quarantine period
There is no legal requirement to pay employees during the quarantine period following their re-entry to the UK. However, employers can consider the following options:
- Working from home if job requirements allow this or look at possible alternate work for the 10-day quarantine period.
- Unpaid leave.
- Extended annual leave – although this possibly could use up an employee’s whole entitlement on one spell of holiday.
- Time Off In Lieu or agreement to make the hours up over an agreed period (if possible).
- A mixture of the options above – allow part holiday hours to be used and part unpaid for example.
If an employee travels abroad for work purposes then it would be deemed reasonable for employers to pay the employee for the quarantine, even if they could not work from home, because the travel was a requirement of their job.
However it is advised that unless this cannot be avoided, no employees should be required to travel to any country on the amber or red list.
Managing Annual leave requests
Employers may need to consider how they manage holiday requests from employees to allow them to accommodate the additional quarantine period. As an employee wishing to take a 2-week holiday from the workplace, will potentially be absent for 24 days.
Employers may wish to consider having an amended holiday booking policy in place temporarily, to include the quarantine period. If the quarantine period is to be used as holiday days also, then companies will need to remove any limits they have in place on how many days can be taken in one holiday booking.
However, employers will need to decide if they are to separate how they treat the quarantine periods relating to pay, when there are last-minute changes imposed by the government as has recently happened with Portugal – changing from being on the green list to amber, and when an employee knowingly books a visit to an amber or red country, already in the knowledge that there will be the need to quarantine.
Employers need to ensure that they are consistent and clear to employees with approving or declining holiday requests to avoid complaints, grievances and discrimination claims.
It is vital for employers to have open and honest discussions with employees in how the quarantine time will be treated by the company and what options an employee has.
Individual circumstances must also be considered, along with the reasons for the booked travel.
Health and Safety
Employers and employees both have a responsibility to look after employee’s health and safety, this includes complying with the quarantine, failure to do so could result in colleagues being exposed to the infection.