With train strikes scheduled for next week, and flight cancellations now a regular occurrence, UK workers seem set for a summer of travel disruption. This blog explores the implication for employers, particularly where workers may be stuck abroad, or otherwise unable to get to their place of work.
After two years of restricted travel due to the pandemic, summer 2022 finally provides an opportunity for well overdue holidays, yet with scores of flights being cancelled daily, 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, workers will inevitably feel like it is something outside of their control, and employers are generally advised to act pragmatically.
For those stranded abroad after a cancelled flight home, getting back to work may prove problematic (unless they have booked extra annual leave as a contingency). Those who are able to work, albeit abroad due to a cancelled flight, should be paid in the normal way – working remotely is commonplace in a post-pandemic world, and provides a practical short-term solution where the circumstances permit. However, this approach assumes that a worker has the means to continue working. Although some diligent or senior employees may have taken their work phone and laptop with them so that they can work even if they are out of the country, requiring or expecting all workers (to the extent that the option is available) to do so is not particularly conducive or consistent with the idea that annual leave is a period of rest and relaxation.
Unless a contract or policy states otherwise (which is unlikely), workers 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 workers 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 is paid for a set number of days in other circumstances, to do so here too. Alternative possibilities are 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.