Can employers restrict staff from taking foreign holidays?

Alan Hickey

April 20 2021

Although foreign travel looks set to be heavily regulated this summer, some employees may nevertheless book trips abroad. From an employer’s perspective, the statutory duties under the Organisation of Working Time Act will 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 how to proceed.

Employer rights around annual leave

Importantly, there’s nothing in the law that allows an employer to forbid an employee to travel abroad.

Employers have a statutory obligation to provide employees with at least four weeks’ paid annual leave per year. Many employers provide more than the statutory minimum. Employers only have discretion to decide the timing around when employees use their annual leave. As above, there’s nothing in the law that allows an employer to forbid an employee to travel abroad.

Employer discretion around timing of annual leave

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 and they consult with the employee at least one month before the annual leave is due to commence. Provided the employer has fulfilled those two conditions, they will have complied with the law.

Before reaching a decision to cancel annual leave, employers should explore all possible alternatives. There should be a clear business reason for any decision to cancel a period of annual leave. Any such cancellation should only be considered as a last resort and should never happen without at least one month’s notice.

It’s also important to be mindful that employees may have paid for hotels, travel costs etc. They may be unable to recoup some or all of that money in the event that the employer cancels their annual leave.

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What sort of disciplinary action can be taken if an employee ignores a request to cancel annual leave and travels?

Provided the employer has complied with its statutory duty to provide at least one month’s notice of the cancellation, an employee who takes an unauthorised holiday is likely to face disciplinary action for failing to follow reasonable management instruction and/or unauthorised absence.  

Can an employee who is working from home be sacked for going on holiday? They will be able to self-isolate since they will be working from home. 

If an employer cancels a holiday request for a legitimate business reason, they must provide the employee with at least one month’s notice of the cancellation. The employee can expect to face appropriate disciplinary action for any subsequent unauthorised absence whether they work from home or on-site. 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.

What about quarantine periods?

The situation is further complicated at the moment by various travel bans and mandatory home quarantine rules. Mandatory hotel quarantine for arrivals from certain countries is a further recent complication. The goalposts are moving from week to week and it’s difficult for employers and staff to make plans for a trip abroad.

An employee may be required to self-isolate or stay in a hotel during a quarantine period. If so, a one-week holiday becomes a three-week absence and creates an added workforce management quandary for employers. This is particularly true if the employee is unable to perform their role remotely. If an employee is unable to return to work due to rules around self-isolating or quarantining, then 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.

These are unprecedented times and employers along with their staff need to work together to find mutually agreeable solutions to these questions that have never been encountered before in living memory.  

Need help handling annual leave issues?

For expert advice on how to work out your annual leave issues, our advisors are ready to take your call any time day or night on 1890 252 923.

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