At the moment, despite some flights over the UK getting back to normal, there are an estimated 100k employees stranded abroad unable to return to work.
Responsibility for dealing with absence in a fair and consistent manner sits not only with HR but with managers. So with ownership of absence issues dispersed across all levels of management, the question is: what can be done to ensure staff are treated in a fair and consistent way?
Employees stranded abroad on business:
* Where employees have been abroad on business (as opposed to holiday) they may have the facilities to work remotely (i.e. laptop, Blackberry etc). It would be reasonable for an employer to expect that such employees will be able to undertake work notwithstanding the fact they cannot make it into the office.
* If an employee is overseas on business and cannot work remotely then they are clearly not on holiday and a continued absence should not be treated as such. It would be unreasonable for an employer to stop wages or request that an employee takes holidays due to an extended business trip when they have sent them to a particular destination to work, unless the employee agrees to this. Employers who have staff abroad on business are still responsible for the welfare of their employees, and should be actively assisting them with travel options for returning to the country.
* In a very small minority of cases an employee who is on holiday may be able to work remotely or from a foreign office of an employer. However this may be unrealistic for many families on holiday due to childcare issues.
* If working remotely isn’t feasible, an employer will need to consider how to treat the days of inevitable absence: holiday, paid absence or unpaid absence.
Employees stranded abroad on annual leave:
* Obviously an employer could look to have its employees take the days off as part of their annual leave entitlement. There are technical issues if an employer insists that this is the case, but if the alternative is unpaid leave then employees may well simply accept the requirement to take it as holiday.
* Alternatively an employer could continue to pay the employees but make it clear that they will be expected to make up the time at a later date.
* Finally, if the employee has reached the limit of their leave entitlement, or if the employer doesn’t want to insist that they use their holiday entitlement, the employer could decide that the days off will be treated as unpaid leave. Whilst there is always the risk that employees could pursue unlawful deductions from wages claims in respect of the salary they are not paid for the days they have off, the risk is low, particularly where employers have asked employees to use up their remaining leave. Depending on the small print an employee may be able to claim for financial losses through their travel insurance.
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As always, I'd love to hear your thoughts!