Coronavirus Pandemic

Covid-19: UAE firms set new rules for employees' travel, annual leave

James Jose/Dubai
Filed on May 7, 2021
File photo

Experts say a well-defined travel policy related to safety rules, annual leaves, quarantine after return, etc. should be shared with employees

With the Covid-19 pandemic still raging in some parts of the world, companies in the UAE are expected to lay down temporary travel policies for employees, covering annual leave rules, Covid testing and quarantine measures.

Employment experts said some organisations have already adopted strict protocols to protect the workplace as employees travel overseas.

“Given the increased risk of exposure inherent in travelling, employers should continue discouraging any business trip and may want to implement a temporary travel policy related to Covid-19,” Vineet Mehra, director of sales at Adecco Middle East, a global HR solutions company, told Khaleej Times.

Such policies should tackle not only the safety rules and quarantine period upon return, but also how annual leave balances should apply in case of travel restrictions. With UAE flights from India suspended, for example, many stranded expats are now worried about their jobs. How should leave balances be deducted in case of unexpected restrictions? Is work-from-home an option? These concerns must be clarified in companies’ temporary travel policies.

“A well-defined travel policy related to safety rules, annual leaves, quarantine after return, etc. should be shared with employees before the upcoming holiday season. This could help employees plan their vacation and travel while limiting the potential spread of Covid-19 at the workplace,” Mehra said.

“The most cautious approach would be for the employee to work from home for two weeks to minimise their risk of infecting anyone else. Alternatively, employees who have tested negative for Covid-19 may resume work after the completion of quarantine period,” he added.

Clarise Morris, manager of HR resources at Leviton Middle East and Africa, said employees are also urged to check travel restrictions and guidelines before flying out.

“If the country is at level 3 or 4 (high-risk), we advise them to consider postponing their trip for a later date,” said Morris.

“The health and well-being of our employees are considered every step of the way. All employees that travel for business must adhere to all Covid-related protocols implemented by the company. Our employees are advised to abide by state/country travel restrictions if travelling.

“Quarantine protocols for vaccinated and unvaccinated employees are mandated separately. We have shared various guidelines for travel for both business and personal reasons. These guidelines include instructions for travel to specific countries, vaccinations, and quarantine protocols, amongst others,” she added.

Mehra also said employers should look into employees’ other activities during a business trip. “For example, the policy might discourage employees from visiting high-risk businesses or locations such as tourist attractions, restaurants, bars or gyms during their down time.”

Morris agreed that such safety checks are necessary. “Employees requesting time off must provide information on where they are travelling to — whether domestically, internationally, and/or a cruise. We are seeing instances of employees taking shorter leave to enjoy a quick staycation or vacation as opposed to longer periods of leave.”

She added that wellbeing initiatives are being introduced “to mitigate the effects of the pandemic caused by factors such as lack of travel, being away from families, or simple changes in lifestyle in the country of residence”.

Many companies are now more flexible when it comes to annual leaves, Mehra said. “Several firms are rolling out flexible leave programmes, wellness day-off, expanded paid leave, etc., to support employees who may have been exposed to Covid-19. Organisations are helping staff members to make better use of their annual leave. Some are allowed to convert unused leave to cash, while others can carry forward more days of unused leaves.”

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