Introduction to this document

Coronavirus overseas travel quarantine memo

Unless a particular country is on the government’s travel corridor list, employees returning from their overseas holidays must self-isolate for ten days, possibly in a quarantine hotel. Use our memo to help manage the impact of the travel quarantine rules.

Key issues

There’s no requirement for employees to quarantine if they’re returning from a “travel corridor” country (although all travel corridors for people arriving in England are currently suspended and there’s also a current ban on overseas holidays). However, otherwise, they must quarantine for ten days starting from the day after they left the non-exempt country, and this may even have to be in a quarantine hotel if arriving in England from a country on the “red list”. Once the travel corridor suspension is lifted and overseas holidays are permitted to resume, one of the issues here is that countries can be added to or removed from the travel corridor list at any time, so employees may be required to quarantine on return from a country that it was considered safe to travel to when they left the UK. Another is that an employee might take the risk of travelling anyway, even though they know their overseas destination isn’t on the travel corridor list. Plus, you can’t simply ban staff from taking their approved annual leave abroad, as that’s likely to be a breach of the implied term of trust and confidence. So, what are your options?

Pay

If an employee can work effectively from home, it would generally be reasonable to permit them to do so (on full pay) during the quarantine period, and this is reflected in our Coronavirus Overseas Travel Quarantine Memo. However, if the nature of their job is such that they can’t work from home, they must not come to work as that would breach the quarantine rules. As they’re unable to work, they have no legal right to be paid. There’s also no entitlement to statutory sick pay (SSP) as it hasn’t been extended to returning travellers, and a contractual sick pay policy is unlikely to cover this situation either. Whilst you can choose to pay discretionary sick pay, you’re not obliged to do so, and our memo assumes that you won’t. If the travel overseas was work related, you should pay the employee during their subsequent quarantine as that has resulted from the requirements of their job.

Additional annual leave

If the employee has sufficient annual leave remaining, you could agree that they can take annual leave during the quarantine period, so our memo covers this option. However, you may wish to distinguish between employees who are caught out by changes to the list whilst they’re abroad and those who choose to travel despite the requirement to quarantine on their return. Our memo includes optional wording if you want to make that distinction. The other option is to grant a period of unpaid leave to cover quarantine, again covered in our memo. Whatever you decide to do, you need to take a reasonable and fair approach to how you deal with the quarantine period. Also, be aware that, under a Test to Release for International Travel Scheme that took effect from 15 December 2020, both business and leisure travellers can take a COVID-19 test with a private provider, at their own expense, to see if they can reduce their quarantine period (but the scheme doesn’t apply to travellers returning from “red list” countries). The earliest they can take the test is five days after they left a country not on the travel corridor list. If the result is then negative, they can stop self-isolating. This scheme may therefore help to reduce the quarantine period for at least some employees, i.e. those who are willing to pay for the private COVID-19 test. You could also agree to pay for it in relation to work-related overseas travel. Note that this private COVID-19 test is in addition to the COVID-19 tests that all returning travellers must currently take on or before day two and on or after day eight of their quarantine period. Finally, under the current rules for England, as mentioned above, staff should not be travelling abroad anyway right now unless they are legally permitted to do so, for example, because the international travel is for work.

Exceptional cases

Not everyone travelling abroad is going on holiday. An employee might need to attend, say, an overseas family funeral, and so do consider treating certain cases as exceptions to your general rules. Our memo provides for the employee to speak to their line manager in such cases to agree a plan in preparation for any quarantine that may be imposed on their return.