Travel once again finds itself at the heart of a major global crisis, with coronavirus impacting the sector in nearly every perceivable way.
We put agents’ most frequent questions facing both customers and staff to a range of legal experts in the industry.
Only if the Foreign Office advice changes to advise against all travel or all but essential travel to a destination.
If the FCO advice says it’s fine to travel, but a customer doesn’t wish to any more, then tour operators can impose their standard cancellation charges.
Some tour operators, though, are allowing customers to defer departures for free, so it’s worth checking with the tour operator to see what the position is.
If the FCO advice allows for travel to a destination, tour operators do not legally have to refund the customer’s deposit if they no longer want to travel.
They should wash their hands often; use hand sanitiser gel; cover their mouth and nose when coughing/sneezing; and avoid contact with anyone who is unwell.
They should also check and follow the latest advice from the Foreign Office.
If the holiday is cancelled by the operator due to coronavirus then customers are entitled to a full refund of their holiday price, but not compensation, as the cancellation is due to unavoidable and extraordinary circumstances.
Likewise, if an airline cancels their flight, the airline will normally rebook them onto the next available service, and cover their accommodation and refreshment costs in accordance with EC261 (the EU regulation on flight delay and disruption).
Who pays for the extra time they’re abroad? A tricky situation, but if they’re stuck abroad because they/the hotel/the ship have been placed in quarantine and they miss their flight as a result, it’s the customer’s responsibility to cover the cost of replacement flights.
Tour operators and airlines have no liability for refunds or replacement flights, as they were still able to fulfil the original booking.
The health secretary has confirmed those who are self-isolating should be entitled to statutory sick pay.
However, from a legal perspective, this entitlement is more nuanced. Only those who have been provided with a written notice, usually by a GP or the emergency services, requiring them to self-isolate will be deemed, under the relevant legislation, to be entitled to statutory sick pay. In contrast, those who have not been provided with a written notice and/or those who have chosen to self-isolate are technically not entitled to statutory sick pay.
It is possible the government could change the requirements as an emergency measure and businesses might take the view it’s in their interests to pay to discourage employees from attending work when they may have been exposed to the virus.
An employer’s duty of care to a member of staff in self-isolation is no more than their duty of care to any other unwell employee.
You should follow your usual procedures, keeping in touch with them to check if symptoms have developed into the illness, and the extent to which it is affecting them.
You should review any default period where necessary to allow the employee enough time to recover and no longer be infectious to others.
If necessary, you can seek medical advice.
You should consider it, or determine whether it can be easily implemented – at the very least for key employees.
For example: enabling remote access on home computers; using Skype or similar to hold meetings; or investing in laptops and mobiles so employees can work from home if needed.
Businesses will need to weigh up the costs of investment against those of any office shutdown.
If an office has to be closed, it’s important to keep a line of communication open with employees and keep them updated.
Businesses may also want to take the opportunity to consider, or update, business continuity plans so they are prepared for any disruption.
You may also want to put in place guidance for staff about what is expected from them when working remotely.
Assuming the employee has the facilities to work from home, you can suggest they do so for the protection of other employees.
Check if you have an express right, as part of their contract of employment, to require the employee to stay away from the office and/or work from home, and insist they do so if there is.
If there is no express contract right or if an individual insists on coming into the office, you can consider suspending the individual, as long as you continue to pay their usual salary, and provided there are reasonable and non-discriminatory grounds for concern, and the matter is dealt with appropriately, proportionately and sensitively.
You should review the suspension period in line with what the employee reports to you, take medical advice, and ensure it is no longer than necessary.
Answers have been provided by Joanna Chatterton, Fox Williams’ partner; Anjali Aravindhan, Fox Williams’ trainee solicitor; and Farina Azam, partner at Kemp Little.