Last week, thousands of British citizens were stuck abroad due to airline chaos after the bank holiday weekend. Staff shortages at several major airlines meant that at least 225 departures were cancelled.
While this isn’t the norm, over the past couple of years, many employees have become stranded overseas for several days—if not longer.
So, what should you do if a member of your workforce is stuck?
Paying absent employees
If an employee didn’t turn up to work under any other circumstance, the answer would be quite obvious. You have no legal obligation to pay an employee for an unexpected absence, after all.
However, you might feel differently when an employee is stranded. First of all, it’s not necessarily their fault. What’s more, they might be stuck abroad with no money—not spending an extra night in a five-star hotel.
You have no legal obligation to pay them, but you may do so at your discretion. If you choose to do this, make sure you aren’t being discriminatory. In other words, don’t refuse to pay one employee stranded overseas, and not another.
If that has given you second thoughts, here are some alternative options to consider…
Managing an unexpected leave of absence
One option is to agree that the employee takes the time off as annual leave. They may have taken annual leave already to go on holiday, in which case, ask whether they’d be happy to extend it. If not, you can pursue some other alternatives.
For example, can the employee work remotely? There are worse options than sitting on a balcony with your feet up while filling out expense reports. If it’s possible, then it could be a great alternative to taking annual leave.
If you do want to deduct any pay for the delayed return, you should wait to conduct a full investigation first. Otherwise, you risk impacting employee morale, causing a bigger issue, and a costly tribunal claim. (More on this later)
Managing gaps during unexpected absences
Back at the workplace—you’ve got an empty desk, or checkout, or post. How do you ensure you can continue to deliver your service or produce your product? How will you tackle a dip in productivity?
The first step is communication with the employee who is stranded abroad. Get them to email or call with notes. This way, whoever is covering for them will know what the priorities are. It’ll also help eliminate barriers, such as login details and technical errors. If the employ is working a shift, you’ll need to find someone who can cover their shift. Contact with the stranded employee means you know the full details of their shift, making it easier to pick up.
Next, is communication with the rest of your workforce. Finding someone who is willing to cover duties is better than forcing someone into the position. So, you should ask for volunteers before choosing someone to take on any extra work. In many cases, it’ll be obvious who should cover. Where it isn’t obvious, maintain communication and check in regularly to ensure they are getting on well.
Is a disciplinary appropriate?
For extended periods of absence, you may consider a disciplinary when they return home. However, we would advise caution when taking this step.
A tribunal case from 2021 where a Briton was stranded abroad shows that disciplinary actions can result in costly claims.
Assuming the issue wasn’t their fault, an informal route is the best option. This will help you discern if there were any discrepancies and advise that the employee is more cautious in the future.
If you do suspect something isn’t right, you can conduct a disciplinary investigation. If you, or a manager, had previously advised against foreign travel during a crucial time and they went anyway, there could be serious consequences.
How your policies can help
To avoid any confusion in the event of a travel disruption, you should look to your documentation. Either update your existing absence policy, or create a new policy specific to travel disruptions.
This will help your workforce understand what you expect from them in these situations. It’ll also outline whether you will pay them for any time off.
If you need help drafting or reviewing an existing absence policy, get support from our documentation team today.
Expert support with travel disruptions
Any employee who travels abroad risks being stranded overseas. While the risk is minimal, it can have a dramatic effect on the productivity of your workplace.
Once this happens, you’ll have key decisions to make: should I continue to pay the employee? Who will pick up their responsibilities while they’re absent?
To get immediate answers to these questions and more, speak to one of our expert advisory team today on 01455 858 132.
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