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HR advice for employers in the UK as the holiday season approaches



 

Following the Government’s decision to ease restrictions in relation to domestic and foreign travel, many employees who have built up holiday entitlement and are longing for a break will be looking to book a getaway this summer.

The ever-changing situation, however, not only makes booking a holiday difficult but for businesses the resource challenge they face if an employee becomes stranded abroad or must quarantine on return from their holidays will undoubtedly be a challenge for many employers this summer.

In this article, HR consultant Lucy Cotterell considers some of the new holiday-related issues that employers may have to deal with in summer 2021 and beyond.

Employees holidaying abroad

Pre Covid employers would not normally have asked what employees are planning to do with their time off before approving holiday requests, but with the UK operating a traffic light system to categorise countries, some employers may now consider asking employees to let them know if they plan to travel to a red or amber country so that they can plan accordingly.

Depending on where people holiday will impact on the time needed from work.

Green list – Individuals need to fill out a locator form, take a test at their destination before making their return journey to England and take a PCR Covid test on day two after their arrival in England. Assuming the test is negative, there are no quarantine or self-isolation requirements.

Amber-list – in addition to the green-list requirements, individuals must self-isolate at home for ten days and take a PCR Covid test on day 8 as well as day 2. Assuming they have a negative PCR Covid test it may be possible to participate in the ‘test and release’ scheme from day five.

Red list – in addition to the green and amber-list requirements, individuals must pay to quarantine in a hotel for a full ten days and there is no early release.

How to deal with quarantine and self-isolation requirements

If an employee is required to quarantine and self-isolate, this time can be treated in various ways:

  • The employee works from home, as usual or if possible, from their quarantine hotel
  • The employee extends their holiday, with the additional time coming out of their overall leave entitlement
  • The employee takes unpaid leave.
  • The employee is regarded as having committed a disciplinary offence on the basis that they have knowingly made themselves unavailable for work.

The most common approach last summer was extended holiday or unpaid leave, however treating this is as a disciplinary matter is becoming more common, especially where an employer incurs additional costs associated with arranging unexpected cover (e.g., overtime or temporary workers).

If employees can easily work from home (or possibly their quarantine hotel), it may be difficult to justify disciplinary action or withholding pay but if they are not able to work remotely and being in the office is essential, employers could take disciplinary action.

What if the destination country is recategorised?

Last summer, the UK government recategorised countries on a regular basis and at short notice. Some employees were caught out and found that they were unavailable for work because of the restrictions or self-isolation requirements.

This is unfortunately going to be the case again this year with many holiday destinations being recategorised as the Government reviews them every three weeks. It is therefore extremely important that all holiday policies are updated to include what happens in this situation.

It is likely to be much more difficult to justify disciplinary action if the employee’s destination country is recategorised and so for many employers the preferred approach is to require employees to take unpaid leave or use their holiday entitlement for the quarantine or self-isolation period if they cannot work remotely.

Dealing with last-minute holiday requests

The three-week review of the traffic light system will undoubtedly lead to an increase in late holiday requests.

Unless the contract says otherwise, the statutory position is that employees must provide twice as many days in advance of the first day as the number of days holiday requested: for example, ten days’ notice of a five-day holiday.

If viable, employers may want to allow last minute holiday requests in order to deal with a large amount of accumulated holiday, but it would be advisable to  review your contracts and holiday policies to ensure you are prepared to deal with these requests.

Employees’ late requests to reschedule their holiday

The three-week review will also lead to employees asking to reschedule their holiday if they are having to self-isolate or if their holiday destination has been recategorised.

Employees do not have any legal rights to cancel or reschedule holidays once booked, apart from in cases of sickness/family leave or as set out in the employment contract. In these situations, employers could enforce notice period for requesting leave or still insist on the employee taking their booked holiday as planned even if they can no longer travel as planned.

This approach should be treated with care, and this may become a contentious issue. To ensure that you apply any discretions fairly and consistently it is sensible to set out some guideline principles on how rescheduling requests will be dealt with. For example, it might be sensible to ensure that employees have used a certain percentage of their holiday before the end of August, which should help to avoid a significant amount of absence later in the year if restrictions continue to ease.

As the situation continues to change and evolve employers should update and communicate these holiday policies so that everyone knows what the rules are and how they will apply to them.

If you would like to discuss updating your holiday policy in preparation for the summer holiday, please contact Lucy Cotterell on 01225 750 000 or lucy.cotterell@mogersdrewett.com. We are here to help.

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