EMPLOYERS have started to ban or restrict business travel for staff as the coronavirus continues to spread across the globe.
But what happens if you already have a holiday booked for personal reasons? We explain your rights.
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The deadly coronavirus has quickly spread across the globe, currently with more than 94,000 reported cases.
So far, there are 85 cases in the UK, with the government revealing yesterday that one fifth of the workforce could be off sick at the same time.
Has your employer banned you from going on holiday to minimise the risk of you getting the virus? Below's all you need to know.
Can your employer ban you from travelling to any destination due to the outbreak?
If the travel plans are for personal reasons, employers can't stop you from travelling nor sanction you for doing so, Alan Price, chief executive at HR software firm BrightHR, told The Sun.
But your employer is allowed to cancel annual leave that has already been approved.
This is as long as they give the minimum required notice, which is the same amount of leave that is to be taken.
But employers should "proceed with caution" if they go down this route, advised Mr Price, as it'll often mean staff are left out of pocket.
He added: "There may also be a discrimination risk here; cancelling all leave to China, Italy or Korea may have a disproportionate impact on employees who are using their holiday to visit family."
But Deborah Scales, head of employment law at Cartwright King Solicitors, interprets the law differently and says employers can only prevent staff from taking leave they haven't already approved.
She added that she's never heard of employers cancelling leave that they've already approved in 12 years of practice.
Can your employer ban you from travelling to affected areas?
The coronavirus outbreak hasn't changed the law regarding the personal travel plans of employees, even if they intend to go to high-risk areas.
The Foreign Commonwealth has so far advised against all travel to the Chinese Hubei Province, and all but essential travel to the rest of mainland China, parts of South Korea and to 11 towns in northern Italy.
Areas the FCO has advised not to travel to
Here are the regions the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) has advised against travelling to due to coronavirus:
- All of mainland China
- Castiglione d’Adda
- San Fiorano
- Terranova dei Passerini
- Vo’ Euganeo
Once again, your employer can't ban you from travelling to those areas but it may try to cancel the pre-agreed annual leave, said Mr Price.
Either way, it may be difficult for you to travel to the areas as airlines have cancelled flights to mainland China and northern Italy.
Depending on where you're travelling, you may have to self-isolate when you return and employers can decide whether this will be treated as sick leave or not.
If your employer advises you not to travel but you do it anyway and you then get symptoms, your boss could avoid paying sick leave as you willingly took the risk, said Ms Scales.
Alternatively, if you're travelling to an area deemed not to be as high a risk, you may only be required to self-isolate if you start to show symptoms.
If you're not showing any symptoms but your boss wants to send you home as a precaution, you should still receive your full pay, Mr Price and Ms Scales added.
A spokesperson for Citizens Advice said it "might be unlawful" to sack you if you go against the advice, but you can't stop it from happening if your employer decides to take this route.
Instead, you'd have to claim unfair dismissal and missing pay in an employment tribunal.
Also keep in mind that agency workers, people with less than two years in the job, and self-employed people aren't eligible to claim unfair dismissal.
Even if your employer won't sack you for ignoring a potential travel ban, you may feel uncomfortable going against the views of your boss.
To avoid problems, it's worth having a discussion with your employer about any upcoming trips, advised Tom Neil, senior adviser at the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS).
He told The Sun: "This is a unique situation and what we would encourage is for employees and employers to talk to each other about what trips they are taking and the possible knock-on effects these could have.
"Employers can remind staff about the latest government guidance on high-risk areas and the circumstances in which they would be required to self-isolate on return to the UK.
"Employers have a duty of care for their staff in the workplace and employees also have a responsibility to look after their health, so having honest discussions about travel plans would be best to avoid any possible disruptions."
If your employer cancels your annual leave
If your employer cancels your pre-agreed annual leave and your holiday is to an area the FCO isn't yet warning against, you may lose the cash you've used to pay for it.
But there are exceptions, and some travel insurance policies will have specific clauses to cover you.
Stuart Lloyd, travel insurance expert at Columbus Direct, told The Sun: "Some policies will cover where it is the illness of a close business associate that leads you to cancelling a trip.
"There may also be cover in place if you are part of the emergency services and your leave gets cancelled."
The policy of each insurer varies though, so you should check the terms and conditions or contact your insurer for information.
Mr Lloyd added: "If your employer does cancel your leave, you should also discuss this with them as they may have a policy of assisting with costs should they have to withdraw agreed leave."
Your employer may reimburse parts of the holiday on a discretionary basis, Ms Scales added.
It's also worth contacting your travel operator, airline or hotel if you've booked separately, as some may allow you to rebook the trip free of cost.
We've made a round-up of the policies of the biggest operators here.
If you've booked annual leave but you're not going anywhere
Even if you haven't booked a trip abroad, it can be inconvenient if your employer cancels your time off at short notice.
But if it has a "reasonable" justification, you may find it difficult to go against.
For example, if there are staff shortages due to the coronavirus, your boss could cancel your annual leave as you're needed at work.
Given the current situation, the definition of what's reasonable could also come into question over the coming months, Ms Scales added.
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