An Employer’s Guide to Annual Leave Requests and Quarantine

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annual leave request

The coronavirus pandemic rolls on, however, with airlines back up and running and with lots of deals out there to entice travellers, requests for annual leave are on the up. However, with spikes in the virus across many countries, we have seen travel restrictions and self-isolation/quarantine rules being imposed often at very short notice.

In this article we look at the difficulties managing annual leave requests when faced with employees having to quarantine on their return to the UK.

I have an employee who has been on holiday to Spain and has now tested positive for COVID-19. They are asking to extend their annual leave. Do I have to agree to this?

No. Annual leave requests are subject to the employer’s agreement and approval. They depend upon the needs of the business and the employee having enough leave to take. Hence, an employee cannot ‘demand’ to be placed on annual leave.

Given the circumstances and the nature of the illness, it would be wholly inappropriate for the employer to act in such a way so that the employee feels they have no choice other than to run the risk and return to work. That said, in this scenario we are dealing with someone who has simply fallen ill at the end of their holiday, so technically any continued absence from work is due to sickness and should be recorded (and paid) as such.

Do bear in mind that annual leave can be requested during sickness, so if the employee wants to make a request for annual leave then you would be advised to treat that request as you would any other. Failing that, you have the option of unpaid authorised leave.

Remember– quarantine doesn’t mean an employee can’t work; it just means they can’t come to their place of work. Look at whether alternative arrangements could be made such as working from home.

One of my employees is currently on annual leave in Portugal, having flown out this week and they are not due back for a further 10 days. They have contacted me to say they may be faced with having to quarantine on their return. This is not acceptable as they are in a key senior role. Can I ask them to cut their holiday short and return to the UK prior to the restrictions being put in place?

At the time of writing it is looking increasingly likely that passengers returning to the UK from Portugal may be subject to quarantine rules.

Where annual leave is concerned (and this goes back to the question above) an employee can never give a cast iron guarantee that they will be able to return to work. They may have an accident, fall ill, resign…. the possibilities are endless.

What you must do here is be reasonable. This is not the employee’s fault; it is not your fault either of course but asking your employee to cut their family holiday short is very drastic. Not only will they lose money but this would be very upsetting for them.

Can you ask them to do it? Well yes, you could ask. Can they refuse? Absolutely.

I have an employee wanting to book annual leave and fly out to a country which is not on the UK safe travel corridor. What can I do?

If an employee is wishing to travel to a country which, at the time of flying out there they know will require them to quarantine on their return, they should factor this into their leave request.

For example, if they are wishing to travel and stay in a country not on the safe travel corridor list for one week, they should be asking for 3 weeks leave from their employer to allow for the 14 day quarantine period.

For an updated list of countries which are on the safe travel corridor please check here

Can I ask someone where they are planning to travel whilst on their annual leave? I’d like to know this from the perspective of H&S as well as managing leave requests.

Under the circumstances it would be appropriate for you to ask. You should consider adding a note to holiday booking forms or issuing a company wide communication.

Can I take formal disciplinary action against an employee if they travel to a country where they know they will have to quarantine without agreeing the necessary time off or refusing to cancel their leave?

It will depend on the individual circumstances.

As stated earlier, asking someone to cancel a booked holiday or return early due to circumstances outside their control should only be done in very exceptional circumstances

However, if you have asked them for certain information such as where they are travelling to and they are dishonest about this, formal action is likely to be appropriate.

Don’t risk it, contact our experts who will provide bespoke advice to assist you.

What if an employee fails to quarantine on their return to the UK and instead comes back to work?

This is potentially a very serious situation and is possibly an allegation of gross misconduct because their actions could place their colleagues and customers at risk.

Seek advice from us immediately before taking any formal action. You should also contact our Health & Safety experts immediately, if you are not signed up to this part of our service then now is the time to contact us to discuss this.

See our previous guide to gross misconduct here

And finally…..

DO– ask employees where they are travelling to and if they have sought appropriate travel advice in respect of where they are traveling to.

DO– make clear that if travel restrictions and/or quarantine rules are imposed during their stay, they must ensure that they make contact with you immediately.

DO– make clear that they travel at their own risk and the company will not necessarily agree to extend a period of paid leave if quarantine measures are imposed.

DON’T – make any hasty decisions without seeking advice. Remember, not all travel is for a holiday. Some people may have exceptional reasons which mean they need to travel.

DON’T try to impose a ‘one size fits all’ approach. These times are still very uncertain; employers need to work with their staff to ensure we are all being as reasonable and flexible as possible.

Next week- over payments to staff- whose fault is it, who is responsible for reporting them and what can be done to recoup monies.