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Is Business travel now allowed? Deciphering the latest Covid-19 travel rules

This past week has seen the latest relaxation of restrictions in accordance with the government’s roadmap to normality. This article sets out the new rules and guidance, particularly for business travel to and from England.

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This past week has seen the latest relaxation of restrictions in accordance with the government’s roadmap to normality. This article sets out the new rules and guidance for employers, particularly for business travel to and from England.

Can you travel abroad?

The regulation that was previously in force making international travel illegal has now been repealed under the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (Steps and Other Provisions) (England) (Amendment) Regulations 2021. Therefore, international travel is no longer illegal.

All countries now have a ‘red’, ‘amber’ or ‘green classification from the Department of Transport. The classification of the country dictates the rules and procedures to be followed upon return to England. These rules and procedures are set out below. It is of course important to check the entry requirements for your destination country before travelling. Some countries, such as New Zealand, appear on the green list, but are not accepting most arrivals. Other countries have different rules depending on the purpose of travel and whether or not you have been fully vaccinated. Of course, most countries continue to have quarantine requirements.

What are the requirements to enter England?

The requirements are dependent on the colour classification of the country you are entering England from. The below table provides a brief overview:

Green Amber Red
Passenger locator form

(to carried during travel)

Test before travel

(within 72 hours of departure to England)

 

 

 

Self-isolation

(10 days)

x x

(hotel quarantine required)

Hotel quarantine

(10 days)

x x
Testing requirements

(must be PCR tests as opposed to Lateral Flow tests. Tests must be pre-booked)

On or before Day 2
Day 5 x

(optional to release early from self-isolation)

x
Day 8 x

The above rules are governed by the Health Protection (Coronavirus, International Travel and Operator Liability) (England) Regulations 2021. Significantly, failure to comply with each requirement is an offence. For example, if you fail to comply with any of the requirements, each of your breaches would count as a separate offence, and would attract a separate penalty. Fixed penalties can be issued for failure to comply and fines range from £500 to £10,000, depending on the circumstances and the offence.

Is business travel permitted?

Legally, all forms of travel are permitted, provided the above requirements are met on return to England (and rules in the destination country are abided by). However, the World Health Organisation has previously stated that non-essential travel for work to countries with community transmission of Covid-19 should be avoided if at all possible.

The Department of Transport has recently said, “people should not be travelling to amber and red countries for leisure”, and the government guidance also states that you should not visit red or amber list countries. The distinction between “should not” and “must not” and why travel to countries we “should not” be visiting is permitted at all has been discussed widely in the press, with contradictory comments being made by ministers and MPs. It seems, however, that the focus of the “should not” advice relates to travel for leisure rather than business travel. Ultimately, the government guidance is advice only and is not enshrined in law. It remains to be seen whether there will be any formalisation of the guidance or indeed whether the traffic light system will be clarified and the colours reduced to two – just red and green – a step that some business leaders are urging the government to take.

Can an employer require an employee to undertake business travel?

Usually, this would depend on the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) advice for travel to the destination in question. It would normally be inappropriate to require an employee to undertake travel against FCO advice. This could be considered an unreasonable request and could have the effect of breaching the obligation of mutual trust and confidence between the employer and employee, as well as potentially breaching duties relating to health and safety.

The current government guidance – Working Safely During Coronavirus (Covid-19) – maintains that “unnecessary” work travel should be avoided. However, the nature of the job could mean that the requirement to travel could be considered reasonable. In these circumstances, it is important that the employer continues to consider its health and safety duties, how any risks can be mitigated, and whether the trip is really necessary. This could include carrying out a risk assessment to identify any risks. Such risks could include pre-existing health conditions or pregnancy.

It is therefore important that employers consider the above factors carefully before requiring an employee to travel.

With the recent emergence of a new highly transmissible variant, the Prime Minister has made it clear that there could be “serious disruption” to the further relaxation of restrictions, and that travel restrictions will be relaxed only cautiously and gradually. However, for business planning it is hoped that the general framework outlined above will be maintained, with just the categorisation of countries changing.

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Emma Burroughs

Trainee Solicitor

emma.burroughs@collyerbristow.com