Employment law for employers & Employment law for employees

Covid-19 Travel Update: What are the latest rules and what do they mean for business travel?

What are the current Covid-19 travel rules, and what does this mean for business travel. Our Employment team explain.


The latest update to the travel rules, much anticipated by the travel industry and travellers alike, came into effect on 4 October 2021. The previous traffic light system has been removed, to make way for a more binary system said to consist of just ‘red list’ countries and ‘the rest of the world’. The reality is that the ‘red list’ continues, and ‘green’ and ‘amber’ lists of sorts have been implemented by virtue of the differentiation in rules depending on vaccination status. As such a quasi-traffic light system remains. This article sets out the details of the new rules with guidance for employers on business travel to and from England.

What are the new rules?

The requirements depend on the country you are travelling from (i.e., whether or not it is on the ‘red’ list) and whether you are fully vaccinated. The table below provides a brief overview:

Eligible fully vaccinated passengers who have not visited a red list country in the last 10 days* Passengers who are not fully vaccinated and who have not visited a red list country in the last 10 days Passengers who have visited a red list country in the last 10 days
Passenger locator form (to be completed in the 48 hours before you arrive in England)
Test before travel (within 72 hours of departure to England) x
10 days self-isolation (at home or in the place you are staying) x x
10 days quarantine in a managed hotel x x
Testing requirements on returning to England On or before day 2 (PCR test) ✓**



Day 5 (optional PCR test to release early from self-isolation) x


Day 8 x

* These rules also apply to some under-18s, people taking part in specific Covid-19 vaccine trials and those with a medical exemption.

** From 24 October 2021, eligible fully vaccinated passengers and most under 18s can take a cheaper lateral flow test, instead of a PCR test, on or before day 2.

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.

Business Travel

International travel into England is now legal, in accordance with the above requirements.

In England, certain professions, such as specialist technical workers and business directors bringing significant numbers of jobs and investment to the UK, could qualify for an exemption to the above restrictions. For example, the exemption may allow those not fully vaccinated to leave isolation to conduct specific business activities.

It is important that employers check the requirements of both England and the destination country when considering asking an employee to undertake work-related travel. Requirements in the destination country may be stricter than those in England and therefore travel may not be permitted at all, or the length of the trip may be increased by self-isolation requirements.

Can an employer require an employee to undertake business travel?

The answer to this question would depend on the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) advice for travel to the destination in question and it would be inappropriate to require an employee to travel against FCO advice. Doing so 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 government has previously advised that “unnecessary” work travel should be avoided, and it has reiterated the need for employers to exercise caution and to comply with their health and safety obligations towards staff. However, requiring an employee to travel could be considered a reasonable request depending on various factors, including the nature of the job and the prevalence of Covid-19 in the destination country.

It is therefore important that the employer continues to consider its health and safety duties and whether the trip is really necessary. This could include carrying out a risk assessment to identify any risks, which could include pre-existing health conditions or pregnancy and potentially the impact on other employees. The employer should also consider whether those risks can be mitigated. For example, should the employer ensure that the employee has comprehensive healthcare insurance whilst they travel, or should the employee be prevented from going into the office upon their return from working abroad?

So there are a number of factors  to consider when requiring an employee to travel abroad, including the employee’s risk appetite, and therefore international business travel may remain practically difficult for some time to come.





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Tania Goodman

Partner - Head of Employment


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