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UK employers risk discrimination claims without post-holiday quarantine policy
04/06/2021
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Vilamoura, Portugal

As businesses attempt to transition their workforces from remote home working back to the physical workplace, news that Portugal has been added to the amber list of the UK government’s “traffic light” system for foreign holidays is a reminder of the importance of staff travel and quarantine policies.

Portugal including the Azores and Madeira was among a list of 12 countries and territories added to the UK’s green list when it was launched last month.

However, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has cited an increase in covid-19 cases and a new mutation of the virus in Portugal as the rationale for the government’s decision to move the country – one of the most popular for British tourists – to the amber list on 8 June.

International travel from the UK was given the green light on 17 May, with the government providing a list of countries that can be visited without the need to quarantine upon return.

To prevent new variants of the novel coronavirus from entering the UK, official guidance is that people should not travel to amber or red list countries, however, it is not illegal to do so.

Travellers returning to the UK from amber list countries are required to take a covid-19 test, book and pay for two covid tests, and complete a passenger locator form prior to their return journey.

Upon arrival, travellers must quarantine at home, or in the place they are staying, for ten days, taking their two covid tests on or before day two and on or after day eight of their stay.

Only British or Irish National, with residence rights in the UK, are allowed to return to the UK from red list countries. Upon arrival, travellers must quarantine in a managed hotel – costing £1,750 per person – and complete two covid tests.

It is also important that nothing is said which would encourage the employee to breach their quarantine rules, no matter the impact on the business

Reacting to the news that Portugal has been removed from the green list, Suzanne Staunton, an employment partner at JMW Solicitors, said: “Employers should make it crystal clear to their employees that they must quarantine, no matter what the impact will be on the business. Employees working from home can simply continue to work from home during their ten-day quarantine.

“Those employers that usually require their employees to attend their place of work have a number of options regarding how to treat the quarantine period: they can ask their employees to take paid holiday; take another form of paid leave; or take that time off as unpaid leave.”

Last month, telecoms giant Vodafone drew criticism for suggesting its workers risk termination if the travel bubble between New Zealand and Australia were to close leaving employees stranded and unable to return to work.

For those organisations preparing their own travel policies, Staunton advised employers to detail how employee quarantine periods would be treated by their organisation.

“Employers should stress that quarantine rules must be adhered to,” she said. “Additionally, employers may wish to draw a distinction between the way they treat quarantine time, in terms of pay, when an employee knowingly goes to an amber or red country, as compared to those who go to a green country, presuming that it will remain a green country.”

Staunton added that, when an employee returns to the UK, “it is important for employers to have an honest and open dialogue with employees concerning the way that quarantine time will be treated, and to take individual circumstances into account which might otherwise result in claims for discrimination if not handled appropriately”.

She continued: “It is also important that nothing is said which would encourage the employee to breach their quarantine rules, no matter the impact on the business.”