There have been lots of stories in the press about people being stranded abroad as a result of flights being delayed or cancelled amidst the airport chaos and staff shortages at the moment. So, if employees are unable to return to work when planned after a holiday ends, what can employers do about it?
On a practical level, it’s unlikely that employers can get their employees home more quickly unless of course there are willing to help with and pay for alternative travel arrangements. Aside from this, both employers and employees alike may want to know what their rights and obligations are in such situations.
If possible and depending on the job in question, employees stranded abroad may be able to work remotely. This might require them to have access to a laptop and it’s doubtful whether many employees would take this on holiday! However, if they are able and willing to work remotely then they are entitled to be paid as normal.
Where this isn’t an option, employers can agree to employees taking further annual leave to cover the extended absence. However, this might not be an attractive solution to employees who will lose the ability to take this at a later time for reasons of their choice. Unless the employer gives twice the amount of notice for the number of days to be taken (e.g. four days notice to take two days), they cannot compel employees to use their annual leave.
It may instead be sensible to agree that the employee is on unpaid leave until they are able to return to work. Another option is to give time in lieu to the employee and require them to make up the missed time at a later date. How feasible this might be is likely to depend on the length of absence.
Given what we have learned about the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic over the last two years and the way that businesses and employees have adapted, it would be unusual, and arguably unreasonable, for employers not to be flexible in this situation which is beyond the employees’ control. This might mean having to alter work schedules and have other staff pick up additional workload temporarily. However, from what we have seen throughout the pandemic, flexibility and understanding are now key features of long-standing and successful employment relationships.
So while both the employer and employee are likely to agree that being stranded abroad and unable to return to work isn’t ideal, the ability to be flexible and adapt to difficult circumstances will no doubt result in less hassle and stress for all involved.
If you have any questions please contact Nicola Clarke of the Glaisyers Employment Team