A technical issue at UK air traffic control on one of the busiest travel days of the year has caused widespread travel disruption, with more than 500 flights cancelled and many more delayed. Although the fault has now been fixed, travellers to and from the UK are continuing to be impacted by disruptions to their travel plans. Some UK travellers are facing a wait of up to 10 days for a flight home or having to find their own way home by lengthy routes over land or sea.

This could present serious problems for employees who find themselves stranded abroad and also for employers who find themselves shorthanded. So how should employers handle the unexpected absence of any staff members that are unable to make their way home in time to return to work as expected?

Under normal circumstances a failure to return from planned annual leave could be considered ‘absence without leave’ which is usually dealt with under the disciplinary procedure. But in this instance the unplanned nature of the disruption means employees have limited control over their ability to travel, so addressing absence as a disciplinary issue would likely be unreasonable. Although it may be difficult for employees to make contact in the usual way, every effort should be made to keep the employer informed of progress.

A key consideration for most individuals will be the impact on their pay if they are not working as expected.

Is an employee entitled to be paid for unplanned absence?

There is no automatic entitlement to pay during any unplanned absence of this nature unless it is agreed with the employer who may choose to pay some or all of the absence at their discretion. However employers should be cautious not to set a precedent for future cases.

What are the options?

  1. Paid annual leave – if the employee has leave entitlement remaining, they may request that the additional time is taken as paid leave with the consent of the employer.
  2. Making up the time – it may be agreed that the lost time is made up at a later date to avoid any reduction in pay.
  3. Unpaid leave – if there is no annual leave entitlement remaining, it may be agreed that the additional time is recorded as unpaid leave.
  4. Remote working – for those stranded abroad in suitable surroundings, it may be possible for them to undertake an element of work remotely if their job role is conducive to such flexibility. Any such arrangements should be discussed and agreed with the employer in advance, considering the extent to which the employee will be able to safely and effectively carry out their normal duties, what limitations may be experienced and any adjustments in pay that may apply.   

If your business is facing disruption caused by unplanned absence and you’re not sure what to do, get in touch.   

Photo by Matthew Smith on Unsplash

Photo by Matthew Smith on Unsplash