Holiday season | Can HR restrict employee Xmas travel?

Can HR restrict employee Xmas travel?

The long-anticipated Christmas break is just a few weeks away, meaning employees will be looking forward to some time to unwind from the last year. For some, however, this may mean traveling around the country to see family and friends, or a trip away for a few days to recharge.

The New Year will likely see more workers take time off to use some of their accrued holiday from 2020, and with the national lockdown restrictions now lifted, they have more opportunities to travel around the UK for some well-deserved time off.

While Government guidelines still encourage people not to travel unless it is essential, it is no longer prohibited for anyone in England to leave their homes to take a trip. This also applies to international travel, reported TimeOut.

Due to this, many employers will likely start to worry that staff may choose to travel and begin to question whether they can limit this. According to Fiona W. Ong and Lindsey A. White, Employment Lawyers at Shawe Rosenthal LLP, the answer to this is “it’s complicated”. 

Writing in a blog post on Lexology, the duo stated that employers may require staff who choose to travel to take a test before returning to the workplace, adding that employers may also be able to deny an employee’s request for leave. They wrote in the post: “In addition, we believe that an employer may deny an employee’s request for leave (during which the employee would travel) based on the negative impact on the business if the leave were to be granted i.e. that following the leave, the employee would have to remain out of work for an additional 14 days.

“This is a rather aggressive approach, but it is within an employer’s discretion whether to approve leave requests. Of course, the employer must be consistent in how it treats such leave requests.”

Self-isolating requirements

When a UK resident returns back to the UK from international travel, they are required to self-isolate for 14 days depending on the country they’ve travelled from. According to “the 14-day period starts is counted from the day after you leave a non-exempt country, or territory or island”.

For employees unable to work from home, this means that they will not be permitted to enter the workplace and carry out their duties for 14 days. ACAS stated that the onus then falls onto the employer whether the worker should be paid or not.

According to ACAS “employees and workers are not entitled to Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) if they're self-isolating after returning to the UK and cannot work from home. But an employer can choose to pay them SSP – or a higher rate of sick pay – if they want to”.

‘Cavalier approach’

Initially, when the pandemic hit, there was a great deal of uncertainty regards employees’ holiday. However, now things are much clearer for employers. Rustom Tata, Chairman of law firm DMH Stallard and Head of the Employment Group, pointed to this. Tata told HR Grapevine: “In these [COVID-19] times employers have become more interested in an employee’s holiday plans than before. Employees may feel that this has little or nothing to do with their employer, but that isn’t the case.

“An employee will need to consider how their particular plans will impact on their ability to return to work.”

Tata shared that instances have started to rise where employers have begun to discipline workers who are taking a “wholly cavalier approach” to travel, indicating that employers are now gaining far more control over their employees’ arrangements. “We are seeing instances of employer’s seeking to discipline employees who appear to have taken a wholly cavalier approach,” Tata explained.

“Employees for their part, as well as arguing the need to see distant relatives at a time of global crisis, may also say that they felt the need to ‘get away from it all’ in order to maintain their own positive mental health.”

Despite this, he warned that employers need to take a consistent approach in these situations, as he continued: “That is making sure that they apply their approach consistently, while also taking account of individual circumstances and explanations.”


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