Travel corridor exemption rules

The latest update to the travel corridor exemption rules has left organisations with yet another self-isolation headache.

At midnight on 26 July, Spain and its islands were removed from the Government’s list of countries which do not require self-isolation upon return.

This means that anyone who arrives from Spain (and its islands) to England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will need to self-isolate for 14 days on their return. This move was taken following a significant change in both the level and pace of change in confirmed cases in Spain. Current guidance is that those currently on holiday in Spain are encouraged to follow the local rules, return home as normal and check the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s (FCO) travel advice pages for further information.

Organisations will now be faced with making a decision over how the additional two weeks’ absence from work will be managed. The employee has no recourse to Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) in this situation; it is important that organisations realise the difference in SSP treatment for this type of self-isolation when compared with others, for example, when an employee lives with someone who develops symptoms which does attract SSP. Organisations who misunderstand the rules and pay SSP to an employee who self-isolates on return from a non-exempt country will not be able to recover it from the SSP Rebate Scheme.

Organisations who currently have employees in Spain or its islands should get in touch with them on their return to ensure that they understand the need to self-isolate and to agree with them how the absence will be covered bearing in mind SSP is not applicable. If employees can work from home, this is likely to be the most favourable option. If this isn’t possible, organisations may consider:

  • Paying full pay
  • Paying the equivalent rate of SSP (this cannot be claimed back from the SSP Rebate Scheme)
  • Paying contractual sick pay
  • Agreeing further annual leave
  • Enforcing annual leave by giving the required amount of notice (double the length of the holiday being enforced)
  • A period of unpaid leave
  • A period of furlough

Due to the FCO advising against all but essential travel to mainland Spain, it may be that employees look to cancel leave they have booked. Others may still wish to go ahead with travel to Majorca, Menorca etc, in which case discussions should take place before departure about how the self-isolation period will be dealt with, again considering the options above. Organisations may wish to adopt the position that self-isolation on return from a holiday will need to be covered by annual leave but must consider whether any such rule could be indirectly discriminatory because of race, which includes nationality.

Organisations are permitted to cancel leave that has already been authorised and some may choose to do this to prevent the employee from travelling abroad if it is thought that the extra absence cannot be accommodated. Whilst this is lawful providing that the employer gives the required amount of notice (the same length as the leave in question), doing so may harm employee relations, especially if the employee were to lose money as a result.

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