Employees can be forced to cancel holidays if they need to quarantine on return

They could struggle to get the cost of the cancellation covered

Qin Xie
Wednesday 02 September 2020 13:45 BST
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Employers can legally force staff members to cancel their booked holidays if there’s a risk that they need to quarantine on return and they can’t work from home.

Workers could also struggle to get their money back if they’re left out of pocket.

Adam Pavey, employment solicitor at Poole Alcock, told The Independent that “employers are becoming increasingly concerned about how self-isolation... can affect staffing requirements.”

At the moment, those visiting countries on the Department of Transport’s travel corridors list are exempt from quarantine on return. But with new destinations struck off the list each week, there have been swathes of people caught out – they are then required to self-isolate for 14 days when they return home.

This isn’t an insurmountable issue for those who can work from home, but it could create operational issues where staff are normally required to go into work.

According to Pavey, “with schools reopening there is likely to be a significant increase in the number of employees having to self-isolate due to children with symptoms being sent home”.

Given the squeeze on both sides, Pavey said that “many employers are wondering whether they can cancel pre-arranged annual leave” and, under the law, they can.

He explained: “In order to do so, they must give as much notice as the amount of annual leave being taken plus an additional day. So if an employee has one-week’s annual leave, the employer must give one week and one day’s notice.

“Whilst the law permits an employer to cancel annual leave, an employer needs to handle the situation carefully as it is likely the action will cause bad will. Employers need to communicate and explain their actions in a sensitive manner and reach a compromise wherever possible.”

Stephen Ravenscroft, head of employment at Memery Crystal, agreed. He said: “There may well be circumstances in which an employer can reasonably cancel previously approved holiday requests and/or instruct an employee not to travel to certain countries, whether for work or non-work related reasons such as holidays, where travelling to those countries already requires or is likely to require a period of quarantine on their return to the UK.

“For example, where the employee is required to be in a particular workplace or location at a particular time on their return in order to perform some important or essential tasks, it may be reasonably foreseeable that overseas travel may compromise this and harm the employer’s business.

“However, the employer could be liable to the employee for cancellation charges in these circumstances if the employee is unable to receive full refunds or insurance coverage for the cancellation of pre-booked trips.”

If employees are unable to claim a full refund or get money back via their insurance provider, turning to an employer for compensation can be tricky.

Ravenscroft explained: “Any such claims would depend upon the circumstances, and may be wrapped up in Employment Tribunal claims for breach of contract and/or constructive dismissal. Standalone claims in relation to statutory holiday entitlement may also be brought under the Working Time Regulations.”

In essence, “the Employee would have to argue that the action amounted a breach of the duty of trust and confidence and resign immediately,” according to Pavey, and then take the case to an Employment Tribunal. There, they would need to argue that “there was no legitimate business reason for the cancellation”.

It comes as quarantine restrictions have become increasingly complicated, with Wales and Scotland introducing more localised restrictions.

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