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Air Bridges are Troubled Waters for Employers

View profile for Natasha Johnston
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Many employers and employees alike have become increasingly concerned about the breaking of travel corridors that permit safe travel to certain countries on the UK’s exemption list.

If you travel to a country not on this list, you must quarantine for 14 days on your return. What we are seeing now is that countries are being removed from this list with very little warning.

The recent changes to French travel advice was sudden and surprising given the positive news around international travel becoming safer. This was quickly followed by the removal of travel corridors between Croatia, Austria and Trinidad and Tobago, whilst Portugal was added back to the safe list.

Understandably, employers are concerned about the costs and the impact on staffing levels for extended periods of absence over and above any annual leave that has been approved.

The SSP guidance has been updated to confirm that anyone who is required to self-isolate when either returning to or entering the UK and this is the sole reason for their isolation, will not be eligible for SSP payments. This is different to the start of the pandemic when SSP would have been payable to those returning from high risk areas such as Italy.   

I have staff due to travel to foreign countries for holidays. What should my expectations be as an employer?

Employers need to communicate their expectations to their employees as early as they can. If employees have already booked their holiday destination, and if working from home is not an option, it would be reasonable to expect them to make every effort to rearrange that holiday to another destination.

You can also decide whether your business would expect an employee to make a reasonable effort to travel home before the new deadline passes, and be clear that this is at their own additional cost.

If the travel advice was different when the employee left the country, then we would advise an employer to be sympathetic. Some examples of how to support employees caught out by a sudden change of the exemption list whilst abroad include:-

  • Agreeing unpaid leave if they are not able to work from home
  • Placing the employee back on furlough leave if they continue to be eligible for this and cannot work from home. Whilst the Government have not given any guidance on whether those required to quarantine can be placed back on furlough, ACAS advice does suggests that this can be done. We would always advise our clients to consider the cost of the contributions they must make towards the scheme, and whether they believe these to be fair and reasonable when the employee was aware of the risk
  • Agreeing extended annual leave if they have sufficient leave to use
  • Permitting home working for the isolation period if their role allows this

It is best practice to have a clear plan and policy statement in place for how these situations will be managed if they become an eventuality. Many companies have a COVID response policy that this could be included in.

Clear communication with employees is crucial and it is important your staff understand how this key change will impact them.

It may alter their travel plans or cause them to rethink any last minute holidays if they are aware they may need to take additional annual or unpaid leave should they be unable to work from home, or have to bear the brunt of the additional cost of coming home early should the rules change whilst they are away.


Natasha is an HR Advisor within JCP's HR Services team. The team provide outsourced HR support and ongoing advice and guidance to the firm's business clients. Natasha also delivers training on HR topics and in recent months has been focussing on furlough leave and business restructuring as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic for local businesses.

For more information contact Natasha on 01792 525478 or email natasha.johnston@jcpsolicitors.co.uk.

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