With the recent announcement that ground staff, baggage handlers and check-in agents at Gatwick Airport are to take strike action as the schools break up and the news that Easyjet has already cancelled thousands of summer flights – what happens if employees become stranded abroad?

When unforeseen circumstances leave an employee stranded, it can create a challenging situation for everyone. The question arises as to how employers should handle such instances without jeopardising the employee’s rights or resorting to heavy-handed measures.

Travelling for pleasure

While it is true that employers have the right to declare an employee ‘absent without leave’ (AWOL) in situations where the employee is unable to fulfil their work obligations due to being stranded, it is essential to consider the context and exercise fairness. If the employee has promptly communicated and explained the situation, especially if it was beyond their control, taking disciplinary action may be seen as unreasonable.

Over the past few years in particular, however, travel disruptions has become the norm and the onus is on employees to prepare adequately for delays. Strikes are typically planned, and, unlike unexpected delays, there is “nothing unexpected” when strikes and reduced flight options are planned in advance. It is for employees to present themselves at work when expected as employers should not have to manage without staff where delays are foreseeable.

Travelling for work

In cases where an employee is stranded abroad for work purposes, disciplinary action would almost certainly be unjustifiable. Employers should instead collaborate with the employee to find a reasonable solution and with the rise of remote work options, employees may be able to carry out some or all of their duties, eliminating the need for pay deductions.

What are the alternative options?

Where this is not possible there are alternative options to consider. Both parties could agree to use any remaining annual leave entitlement to cover the additional time stranded. Alternatively, the employee could make up the lost time at a later date, allowing them to fulfil their contractual obligations while avoiding any loss of pay. Agreeing on unpaid leave is another possibility, although it should be recognised that this places a burden on the employee’s finances.

Stranded situations require a delicate balance between honouring employment contracts and demonstrating understanding and empathy towards employees facing unexpected challenges. By adopting a flexible and compassionate approach, employers can foster a positive work environment where employees feel supported even during difficult times.

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Published: 17th July 2023
Area: Corporate & Commercial

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