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Can your employer stop you from going on a foreign holiday?

·Writer, Yahoo Finance UK
·4-min read
Workers need time off to stay happy and engaged with their work – denying them this can seriously backfire for businesses. Photo: Getty
Workers need time off to stay happy and engaged with their work – denying them this can seriously backfire for businesses. Photo: Getty

From 17 May, people in England will be allowed to go on holiday abroad in a small number of countries.

Portugal, Australia and New Zealand are among the permitted destinations on the government’s current green list, which tourists will be able to travel to without having to quarantine on their return. People coming from countries on the amber list will have to take a pre-departure test and tests on day two and day eight of their arrival.

Although airlines, tour operators and travel agents are pinning their hopes on a surge of bookings, whether people want to travel over the summer remains to be seen. A survey of over 2,200 UK adults conducted for the Department for Transport (DfT) by Ipsos Mori in late March found barely half of Britain’s international travellers are happy about going abroad this summer.

But if a worker does want to go abroad – and to a country that requires them to self-isolate upon returning – can an employer do anything about it?

“So although foreign travel looks set to be heavily regulated this summer, some employees may choose to book trips abroad,” says Alan Price, CEO at BrightHR. “From an employer's perspective, the statutory duties under the working time regulations always dictate their approach to annual leave.

“It's perhaps no surprise that the working time legislation doesn't take mandatory hotel quarantine or travel bans into account, so it will really be down to employers and their staff to discuss any concerns around foreign travel before agreeing on how to proceed,” he adds. “Importantly, there is nothing in the law that allows an employer to forbid an employee to travel abroad.”

Read more: Fallen ill on holiday? Here is what you need to do

Employers have a statutory obligation to provide employees with at least 5.6 weeks paid annual leave per year, and many employers provide more than the statutory minimum.

“Employers only have the discretion to decide the timing around when employees use their annual leave. As above, there is nothing in the law that allows an employer to forbid an employee to travel abroad,” says Price.

“When it comes to the timing of annual leave, employers may cancel a period of annual leave if they have a legitimate business reason for doing so, provided they give notice that is at least the length of the leave planned before it is due to commence. Provided the employer has fulfilled those two conditions, they will have complied with the law.”

Before cancelling annual leave, though, employers should explore all possible alternatives.

“There should be a clear business reason for any decision to cancel a period of annual leave,” he says. “Any such cancellation should only be considered as a last resort. It is also essential to be mindful that employees may have paid for hotels and travel costs and may be unable to recoup some or all of that money if the employer cancels their annual leave.”

And it’s worth bearing in mind that cancelling annual leave can seriously impact employee morale and job satisfaction, particularly after this challenging year. Workers need time off to stay happy and engaged with their work – denying them this can seriously backfire for businesses.

“Suppose an employer cancels a holiday request for a legitimate business reason. In that case, the employee can expect to face appropriate disciplinary action for any subsequent unauthorised absence, whether they work from home or on-site,” says Price. “If remote workers can carry out their duties in full while completing any required period of quarantine, there should be no reason for disciplinary action.

“The situation is further complicated at the moment by various travel bans, mandatory home quarantine rules and most recently, mandatory hotel quarantine for arrivals from certain countries. The goalposts are moving from week to week, and it really is difficult for employers and staff to make plans for a trip abroad.”

Read more: Netflix offers employees unlimited holidays — should all businesses try it?

If an employee is required to self-isolate or stay in a hotel during a quarantine period, a one-week holiday may become a three-week absence. This can create an added workforce management difficulty for employers, particularly if the employee is not able to perform their role remotely.

“Suppose an employee is unable to return to work due to rules around self-isolating or quarantining. In that case, the employer may have reasonable grounds to take disciplinary action as the employee is unavailable to perform their duties once the agreed period of annual leave has concluded,” says Price.

However, there is a difference between an employee not being able to do their job remotely and an employer being unwilling to let someone work remotely. Unless it’s impossible, employers should be flexible – businesses and their staff need to work together to find mutually agreeable solutions.

Watch: Should I book a holiday in 2021?

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