Holiday Q&A: employers’ top five questions answered

Alan Price – CEO at BrightHR

June 08 2021

Red lists. Rapidly-changing restrictions. And staff reluctant to book any holiday at all…

As COVID-19 continues to disrupt travel plans, managing holiday requests isn’t easy right now. Because while some employees could be saving their annual leave for a safer time, others could be caught in a lengthy post-holiday quarantine.

To help you manage holidays abroad, we’ve answered your biggest questions on all the latest restrictions.

My employee wants to travel to a country on the amber list – can I stop them?

Currently, travel destinations are split into a traffic light system. While countries on the green list are safe to visit, countries on the red list are off-limits for UK citizens.

In between, travellers can visit amber list countries for essential purposes. But along with taking two PCR tests, travellers also need to isolate at home for 10 days upon returning to the UK.

So if an employee spent two weeks in an amber list country, they’d be away from work for nearly a month. Which can really leave your business in the lurch…

In this situation, you have four options:

  1. Ask staff to use their holiday allowance to cover the trip and self-isolation period. This would mean allowing staff to use a large chunk of their allowance in one big hit.
  2. Grant annual leave to cover the trip (or your usual limit for consecutive days off) but ask staff to take unpaid leave for the remaining self-isolation period. This could deter staff from visiting an amber list country.
  3. Grant time off for the trip and allow your employee to work from home during their isolation period.
  4. Deny the holiday request on the basis your business will struggle i.e. you don’t have enough staff to cover their additional leave.

Many businesses put a cap on how many consecutive days an employee can use at once. This means you could potentially refuse the request if the holiday is too long. 

It’s best to look at each request on a case-by-case basis. Because while some staff might be hoping to enjoy a break in the sun, others might need to head abroad for something more serious – like to attend a close family member’s funeral or care for relatives.

An employee who isn’t a British citizen could have an important reason to travel overseas. To avoid accusations of unfairness – or race discrimination claims – it’s safer to allow any essential or meaningful trips if you can.

None of my staff are booking holiday… what can I do?

In an ideal world, staff evenly spread out their leave throughout the year. But with typical holiday destinations still off limits, staff could be stockpiling their leave until restrictions ease.

And when staff avoid taking leave, it could spell trouble ahead. Because a big build-up of unused holiday could mean everyone taking time off in autumn. Or it could mean rolling over holiday for an even bigger build-up next year…

As an employer, you can book leave on behalf of your staff. So if you’re concerned staff aren’t booking enough holiday, you can step in and manage their leave.  

To do this, you need to provide double the notice of the holiday. So if you needed an employee to take two days off, you should provide at least four days’ notice before the leave.

However, forcing staff to take holiday should only ever be a last resort. This could hurt your relationship with your staff and lead to morale issues. Instead, encourage your staff to book leave and point out the benefits of taking time away from work – even if it’s a staycation at home.

My employee’s holiday destination moved into the red list… should I cancel their leave?

Last year, your employee booked their all-inclusive in Turkey. And without a second thought, you accepted their holiday request…

But with Turkey and other holiday destinations now on the red list, your first reaction might be to cancel their leave.

Because when UK residents return from a red list country, they need to isolate for 10 days in a managed quarantine hotel – which costs £1,750 per person.

First, you need to speak to your employee to make sure they’re aware about the red list restrictions. The chances are, they’ve cancelled their holiday to avoid the costly expense.

That’s not to say you should cancel their leave, though. Whether they rearrange a holiday in the UK or take a break at home, you should check whether they still want to take their time off as planned. 

If your employee is aware of the guidance but still planning to travel, there’s nothing in the law to stop them – despite this being against strict guidance.

But since this means an extra 10 days away from the workplace, you can cancel their leave if this goes against your usual policy (i.e. you don’t allow staff to take more than 2 weeks’ holiday at once). To do this, you’ll need to provide notice that’s as long as the holiday or more. 

To avoid any conflict, only ever cancel a holiday request after speaking to your employee first.

My employee is on holiday and their destination moved to the amber list…

Your employee is enjoying a well-earned holiday and, all of a sudden, their destination moves to the amber list.

Nightmare. With a short window of time to travel home before the guidance updates, your employee will likely face a 10-day self-isolation period.

Before staff head away, you should make it clear how you plan to manage any quarantine periods. Your options include asking staff to:

  • Work from home during their self-isolation period.
  • Take unpaid leave to cover their self-isolation period.
  • Book extra leave to cover their self-isolation period.

It’s important staff know how you’ll respond in the worst-case scenario before they travel. If employees know you won’t provide paid leave for self-isolation, they may think twice about booking a holiday abroad. This means staff take the risk on their own terms, instead of facing an unwelcome surprise when they arrive home.

All my staff are booking leave now – how can I handle the rush of requests?

Your staff might be hoping to travel in the near future. After a year of restrictions, it’s no wonder – but it means you might struggle to manage your business if everyone is away at once.

In this situation, it’s best to assess each holiday request on a case-by-case basis. With the positive mental health benefits associated with a healthy work-life balance, it’s good to accept the request if you can.

This could mean offering paid overtime or hiring temporary staff to cover any absences. Or it could mean asking employees to manage their workload before heading away.

If you can’t allow too many staff to take time off, consider following a first-come first-served policy. In other words, the first employee who books the leave automatically gets priority. This is the fairest way to decide who gets the leave, and who doesn’t.

Sharing a team holiday rota can help your workforce plan their leave. So if you can’t have certain employees using leave at the same time, staff can check when their workmates are away before they send a request.

Worried about travel limits and restrictions?

Don’t worry. No matter what travel limitations are in place, our HR and health & safety support is completely unlimited.

With rapidly-changing guidance and the risk of self-isolation, there’s plenty of new issues to navigate. Luckily, our HR experts are always here to help. With Peninsula support, you get:

  • Staff annual leave policies, written for you
  • 24/7 employment law advice on staff disputes
  • HR software to manage holiday requests and prevent clashes

So if you’d like 24/7 and unlimited support throughout any employment issue, get in touch today on 0800 028 2420.

Suggested Resources