There has been much chaos of late with the rail strikes and flight cancellations and this may have had an impact to employees and employers alike.
The recent train worker and union disputes and subsequent industrial action do not look like they will be resolved any time soon and with flight cancellations now a regular occurrence, it seems that we may possibly be set for a summer of disruptions.
So, for employers, what are the implications if a colleague gets stuck abroad or is unable to travel into their workplace?
Domestic travel disruption
Travel disruption is not confined to flights abroad, with national rail strikes taking place, this is having a real-time impact for the economy and workplaces.
Unlike many of the flight cancellations, there has seemingly been more notice of the strikes and disruptions for commuters and dates and routes affected and so although inconvenient, there is a little more opportunity to make contingency plans.
Where at all possible, advo would recommend that if employees can work from home. That they should be encouraged to do so if their usual train journey is severely impacted and there is no convenient alternative. For those required in a workplace, the disruption may require more careful management. We would recommend that all employers raise the issue of potential strikes with the team at the earliest opportunity so that employees have the opportunity to explore alternative modes of transport and they should be encouraged to raise concerns, such as a significantly longer or more expensive journey than usual, so that all options may be explored.
We would suggest that all employers would benefit from working collaboratively with those affected to try and seek a workable solution, perhaps rearranging working patterns or even offering some financial assistance, to mitigate the disruption and to avoid the risk of last-minute absences on strike days.
If anyone is unable to attend work, employers are within their rights not to pay them but advo would recommend firstly checking the terms and conditions within the contract. This aside, please consider the wider effect this would have on employee morale and the added stress to an already stressful situation.
Could the employee work remotely? If remote working is not possible, could the employee take annual leave? What is the effect on affected childcare provision where employees’ normal provision has been affected by the disruptions – employee have a statutory right to unpaid time off for a dependant unless the Company offers a more comprehensive policy
Towns and motorway road networks appear to have been busier on strike days so planning journey times in advance is important. On planned strike days, can alternatives be considered.
The increased price for fuel may impact employees who may now be faced with having to drive further and commute a considerable distance when strikes are on and it may be worth employers considering the impact that this may have on morale.
This can be an extremely frustrating situation and if an employee has already started their day negotiating traffic jams and disruption, together with a concern over fuel costs and already thinking about their journey home, that day may not be the most productive!
Where home working may have been offered in the past, for example, during lockdown, and declined on a short-term basis now, it may be difficult to justify the rationale and could subsequently result in disengagement.
We are in the midst of increasing costs, and with these added concerns, a solution may be as simple as allowing employees to make up their hours due to travel disruptions. Any approach should be aimed at positively supports your team and we would always encourage talking to your employees as often a workable solution can be reached.
At this time of innovative thinking, it may also be considering introducing a car share arrangement as this could significantly lower travel costs, now and going forward!
After two years of restricted travel due to the pandemic, we all hoped Summer 2022 would give us the opportunity to travel abroad, whether this is for a family holiday in the sun or visiting family who may live overseas. However, with scores of flights being cancelled daily, it may be that not everyone will get away as planned, or return when they are meant to.
Notwithstanding an argument that flight cancellations or being stuck abroad is not an exceptional circumstance in present times, employee may feel like it is something outside of their control, and advo would generally advise employers to approach any disruptions pragmatically.
For those stranded abroad after a cancelled flight home, getting back to work on the date planned may prove problematic unless they have booked additional annual leave as a forward-thinking contingency.
Those who are able to work, albeit abroad due to a cancelled flight, should be paid in the normal way. Some employees may have holiday homes or have access to work, e.g. internet connection within their accommodation and may have the facility to do so and this may provide a practical short-term solution. We would also add the caveat with this arrangement to be aware of the security of any data if working remotely.
We would also add that requiring or expecting workers to be in a position to work, before they go abroad, may be regarded as wholly unreasonable as holiday is intended as a period of leave for rest and relaxation and employees may feel disgruntled if any such request is made.
Unless a contract or policy states otherwise, employees stuck abroad who cannot work remotely, or have no means to do so, have no entitlement to be paid for their absence once their annual leave comes to an end. However, assuming employees are making all reasonable efforts to get back to the UK as soon as they can, and being empathetic to the anxiety and administrative burden that employees will be facing in making alternative arrangements, employers could consider treating it in the same way as they would an ‘emergency’ situation, so if this you have such an arrangement and such is paid for a set number of days in other circumstances, it may be prudent to do so here too.
Alternative possibilities may be to require the days to be taken as paid annual leave, or otherwise as authorised unpaid absence. Options should be discussed in conjunction with the affected employee to find a mutually convenient solution depending on their specific circumstances, although employers also need to be mindful of treating workers consistently.
For others getting away at all may be scuppered where outward flights are cancelled. Although some employees will continue to take their annual leave anyway, others may prefer to get back to work and take their leave at another time having rearranged their holiday.
Employers should check contractual and policy provisions around cancelling or changing holiday dates, but otherwise should note that in the absence of an express right to cancel, an employer does not have to agree, and that under statutory rules (which can be varied/excluded with consent) any request for leave should be given with twice as much notice as the length of the absence (which may be relevant where dates are being pushed back a few days or a week).
While this gives employers the option to take a strict approach, we would again advise to be flexible and pragmatic where possible given the circumstances. Of course, last minute cancellations or changes may not always be practicable, particularly for roles where temporary cover has already been arranged or the leave is part of a workplace shutdown.
However, where the needs of the business are not significantly inconvenienced, advo would always urge employers to do what they can to maintain good employee relations.
Employers should agree a process with any employee impacted by a flight cancellation or delay. Normal absence reporting procedures should apply and prior to any holiday, we would suggest that you remind employees to notify their line manager immediately they are aware of any travel disruption so any support or contingency can be put into place.
advo does hope your business is not impacted too severely by possible travel disruptions this summer but planning ahead will save knee-jerk or any ill thought-out decisions that could negatively impact the business be that through absenteeism, low workforce morale or brand reputation.
Appreciating no two situations are the same, advo are available as always to offer commercially sound advice and support should you or your business be impacted by such events.
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