COVID and Overseas Travel

Despite the government recently introducing the traffic light system for foreign travel, there is still a lot of uncertainty for employers. As we approach the summer period, employers are going to get asked more and more questions by employees regarding their holiday allowance, if they can travel to foreign destinations, and the impact this will have on their jobs if a quarantine period is involved.

What is the traffic light system and what does it mean?

Foreign travel resumed from 17th May 2021, but under the governments traffic light system. This system allows the public to understand the different COVID travel restrictions when travelling to and from England. As the virus continues to spread, the government does not recommend travel to amber or red countries for leisure.

Green List – If you are returning from a green country, you must provide a negative COVID-19 test before travelling into England and then again on day 2 after you arrive. You do not need to quarantine unless the test result is positive.

Amber List –  If you are returning from an amber country, you must take a COVID test before travelling to England, quarantine at home for 10 days and take a COVID-19 test (that you have paid for) on day 2 and day 8 of your isolation.

Red List – Anyone returning from a red list country must be a British or Irish National, or have residence rights in the UK. You must take a COVID test before travelling to England, then quarantine in a managed hotel, taking a COVID test on day 2 and day 8.

A list of countries on each list can be found at:

Red, amber and green list rules for entering England GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)

Does being vaccinated mean that employees can avoid quarantine?

No. The current government rules state that those who have had their vaccinations still have to follow the restrictions in place when returning to England after foreign travel.

Can we ask staff where they will be travelling to and why?

Yes, as long as your holiday policy reflects this.

It may be a good idea to also adjust your holiday booking form to ask employees if they are travelling overseas, and if so, where and for what reason. This will allow for more information to be collated in the event of disciplinary action.

How quickly can we change our policy?

Policy changes can be made whenever, as long as staff are informed in reasonable time of what the changes include. You should include in the policy what will happen if an employee holiday’s abroad and then has to quarantine.

When identifying changes to your policy, it is important to consider:

  • How employees are to notify management that they are travelling, and what notice they need to give
  • The reasons as to why a holiday request would be approved or rejected
  • How any quarantine period will be recorded; unauthorised absence, unpaid leave etc.
  • If it is unauthorised, will it be dealt with via the disciplinary policy when the employee returns to work?
  • The affects that quarantine periods will have on the business

Whilst you cannot dictate what employees do in their own time, under the current circumstances you can discourage employees from travelling through the points outlined above in the company policy.

What do we need to consider when approving holiday requests?

The main thing to consider is whether or not employees need to quarantine when they return from their holiday. The traffic light system is reviewed and can be changed every three weeks, so it could mean that the place of travel was on one list when they requested the leave, but this could change before they actually travel.

As an employer, it is important to be aware of the potential affects it can have on the business if an employee is out of the office during quarantine, especially if they are unable to work from home.

The quarantine period on the amber list can be reduced if they pay for a further COVID-19 test. Therefore, employers could consider paying this for the employee to reduce their time away from work, or suggest that the employee does so.

Can we tell employees that they cannot travel abroad?

Under the Working Time Regulations 1998, it states that employers are able to request that employees do not take annual leave on particular dates. However, if you do this after you have previously approved the same holiday dates, the employee can expect you to reimburse them. This is also risky as it can break down the trust between both parties, and may be unfair if the quarantine requirements were not in place when the annual leave request was submitted.

You should also use the policy as guidance, and listen to your employees on a case-by-case basis. If someone is travelling for a family emergency or other genuine reason that is not for a holiday, you should consider compromising with the employee.

– Can they work from home whilst quarantining?

– Can the business cover their role for the quarantine period if necessary?

– Can they use more of their annual leave so that they are not at financial detriment?

There are lots of factors to be considered. You can also ask employees to provide proof of their travel and any supporting documents to help consider the outcome decided.

Can employees claim SSP whilst quarantining?

If employees are quarantining due to travel and do not have symptoms of COVID-19, they will not be able to claim SSP.

However, if an employee is unwell with COVID-19 after returning from holiday, employers should treat this as a period of sickness and refer to the company’s sickness policy.

Can employees carry over holiday?

The government has adjusted the Working Time Regulations 1998 to allow employees who have been unable to take holiday due to COVID-19 to carry over up to 4 weeks of unused leave into the next 2 holiday years, easing the pressure on businesses to ensure that workers take the statutory amount of leave in any one year. This however, is at the discretion of the company and is not an entitlement of the employees.

If you have any further questions or queries, please do not hesitate to contact us on 01743 444007 or at info@trianglehr.co.uk

By Lauren Crompton


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