19 Apr 2010
Employers must take care when managing staff absences. 19 April 2010: With up to 150,000 Brits currently stranded abroad due to the eruption of the Icelandic volcano, Eyjafjallajökull, and grounding of planes across Europe, employers are being told to respond reasonably to employees unable to return to work this week. Croner www.croner.co.uk, the UK's leading provider of workplace information and consultancy services, is expecting a flood of calls from employers unsure of how to react to the unprecedented disruption. "With thousands of employees stranded abroad following holidays and business trips, many managers will be faced with staff absences, as well as employees who have had their holiday plans dashed and want to come into work," said Jo Waller, Employment Law Consultant at Croner. "Given the unusual and unpredictable nature of the events leading to the travel problems, many bosses will be unsure what they should be doing and what their legal obligations are." In anticipation of the problems businesses are likely to encounter, Croner has issued some guidance to employers. Employees unable to return to work due to circumstances out of their control Given that staff absences aren't as a result of their conduct or actions, considering them as AWOL (absent without leave) or taking disciplinary action are unlikely to be seen as reasonable responses and could be seen as contrived. Instead, the employee should be given the option to take holiday or unpaid leave for the time they are absent from work. Employers should issue employees with an instruction to keep them updated and it may also be sensible, where possible, to get a contact number for the employee so they can be reached if necessary. It will also be good practice to have a return to work meeting with the employee and if there is any doubt that they weren't genuinely affected by the travel disruption, employers can ask them to provide proof such as airline booking documents, travel tickets etc. Employees away on business In this situation employers would be required to maintain pay for the period of time employees are stranded abroad and do their best to provide them with work. The employer will still owe a duty of care to its employees and will need to ensure that they are complying with such obligations and assisting the employee with any necessary arrangements. Cancelled holiday Subject to any company specific internal policies and procedures, employers are under no obligation to cancel previously booked holiday and can insist that it remains in place. However, managers may want to consider allowing the employee to take this holiday at some other time in an effort to maintain good employee relations or in order to cover the unexpected absences of someone who has been stranded abroad. Businesses connected to the airline industry unable to provide work for employees For employers unable to provide employees with work due to the grounding of airplanes, they are responsible for continuing to pay them or find alternative work for them to do. For companies that have a lay off or short time working clause they may wish to enforce it and prevent the employees from attending the workplace. Alternatively they may force the employee to take holiday, however this would require issuing twice the notice as the time they are required to take so could be unrealistic in many cases. Care should also be taken to ensure that in forcing employees to take leave, the employer is not acting in breach of contract.
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