Holiday bookings creates difficulties for employers

The Government recently announced the removal of the requirement to take a PCR Covid test on return from travel abroad for those who are fully vaccinated. This came into force from 4am on 9 January 2022. As a result, foreign holidays are being booked at a rate not seen since before the pandemic started in March 2020.

Whilst this provides a great boost to the struggling travel industry, the knock-on impacts on employers aren’t so welcomed. These changes come at a time when many employers are struggling with widespread staff shortages, with the reason for this partly related to the continual increase in the numbers of people self-isolating due the surge in Omicron cases, as well as the ongoing impacts of ‘The Great Resignation’ and staff burnout. As a result, businesses are unable to allow holidays without them having a serious impact on the business.

What can employers do?

Any decisions must be in line with the organisations holiday policy, and consistent with previous actions under it. Should there be issues with multiple staff members wanting the same time off, discussions should take place to see if a compromise can be made which allows as many as possible to get what they want, whilst still keeping the organisation operational.

Organisations may wish to put a cap on the number of people who can be off at the same time, to ensure there are always minimal staffing levels in place. Similarly, they can block annual leave bookings for peak times where they know they will need as many people in as possible. For example, over Valentine’s Day weekend, hospitality businesses can put out a blanket rule to say all annual leave requests will be declined.

Employers should still remember to be fair and reasonable, and understand that this may be an employee’s first chance of a foreign holiday since 2019. With careful planning, employers may be able to allow at least some to go on their long-awaited holidays, by arranging for overtime, shift swaps and alternative working patterns.

What if employees return with Covid?

Unfortunately, there is the chance that holidaying employees may return with Covid, and subsequently need to take more time off from work. In such cases, employers should first assess whether the individual is fit and practically able to work from home during this time. If not, subject to normal eligibility criteria, they will be entitled to statutory sick pay for the period of sickness absence.

However, SMEs are able to reclaim the cost of 2 weeks’ SSP per employee for Covid-related absences starting on or after 21 December 2021. This can be done through the government’s re-opened Coronavirus Statutory Sick Pay Rebate Scheme (SSPRS). Employers should keep in mind that SSP is payable from day one of Covid-related sickness.

What do employers have to pay for post-travel quarantine?

Employers are under no obligation to pay employees for periods of post-travel quarantine. It is beneficial to consider whether the individual can temporarily work remotely, as this enables them to earn their normal salary with minimal disruption to the business. Where this is not possible, employees can instead consider allowing or enforcing (with correct notice) an extended period of annual leave. Or, can mark this period as authorised unpaid leave.

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