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Flight Cancellations and Delays – What happens when an Employee is stranded abroad

Following the Jubilee weekend and the recent half term holidays, thousands of travellers are thought be stuck abroad due to cancelled flights and delays at airports. These travel disruptions are said to be caused by staff shortages in the industry, following staff cut-backs during the covid-19 pandemic. Below, we take a look at the employment law implications for employers and employees in the event that an employee is stranded abroad.

1. Check the employment contract and workplace policy 

If an employee is unable to come to work it is vital that the employer checks the employee’s employment contract.

2. Wages

Employees are only entitled to be paid wages for work they have done. If employees are unable to attend work and carry out their contractual duties, subject to their employment contract or any workplace policies, the employer is under no obligation to pay them.

3. Can employees request annual leave?

It may be possible to ask the employee to agree to take the time off as holiday (if they have any annual leave remaining).  Most employees would be happy to do this as it means they are still receiving some form of pay.

4. Can we force employees to take annual leave?

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 one week’s leave must be given with at least two weeks’ notice.

5. Remote working

As a result of the covid-19 pandemic, there has been an increase in employees who are able to work remotely. If the employee is able to work remotely during this period and you agree to this, then they should be paid for work done. Employers should take into account data protection issues should an employee work remotely from abroad. If the employee is working in a country outside the European Economic Area, special care will need to be taken to ensure data transfers are complaint with the General Data Protection Regulation.  

6. Disciplinary action

Failing to return from holiday on time may constitute an unauthorised absence.

As with any unauthorised absence, this a potential disciplinary matter and may be cause for an investigation. Following the investigation an employer may conclude that disciplinary action is warranted, however, if the employee has a genuine reason for the unauthorised absence – such as unforeseen travel disruption that is beyond their control, and they made effort to contact the employer to advise them of this, there is unlikely to be a disciplinary case to answer.