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What happens when employees are stranded abroad?

With the sad news of Thomas Cook’s collapse and with an estimated 600,000 people worldwide having their travel plans disrupted we take a look below at the employment law implications for employers and employees.

Employees are only entitled to be paid wages for work they have done. So, if employees cannot come to work and carry out the work they are paid to do, the employer is under no obligation to pay them. This is subject to the employee's employment contract or any workplace policies that may provide otherwise. If a policy or contract of employment states that employees will be paid if they are unable to attend work because of matters beyond their control (such as the collapse of a tour operator), then employees have a contractual right to be paid. Without this right, employers may choose instead to exercise their discretion and pay employees who cannot make it into work as a goodwill gesture.

If it is not feasible to pay employees who cannot make it into work as a gesture of goodwill, how should an employer manage the situation? The easiest way forward would be to ask the employee to agree to take the time off as holiday. Under the Working Time Regulations 1998, employers requiring employees to take holiday must give them at least twice as much notice as the length of that holiday. For example, a requirement to take two weeks leave must be given with at least four weeks' notice, however the regulations do permit employers to exclude this obligation.

Employees who are able to work effectively “off-site” from wherever they are stranded should generally be paid, and for some, this is a possibility. Employers should consider what the contract of employment and internal policies say about working away from the normal place of work and what facilities employees need to carry out their work. The last of these points will most probably dictate whether staff stranded overseas can work off-site.

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