What to do if an employee is stranded due to flight cancellations this summer

July 7, 2022
Chris Bushnell

Legal Counsel

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The travel industry is having a turbulent time dealing with the increase in travel following restrictions easing.  This has led to flight cancellations, which are expected to continue over the summer.

What could an employer do if an employee can’t get home from their holiday due to flight cancellations?  The first step is likely to be to consider whether the employee is able to work remotely in the particular circumstances.  This may include a number of factors:

  • Is the job able to be done remotely?
  • Does the employee have the facilities and equipment that they would need to work, ensuring that any confidential and personal data remains secure?
  • Does the employee have the time to work?  For example, if the employee is looking after young children it may not be appropriate to work.
  • Is it appropriate for the employee to work from the location that they are in? For example, if the employee is abroad, this can be complex because of issues such as tax and immigration so an employer should exercise caution here.  We previously shared our insights on some of the employment law considerations when employees work remotely overseas.

If it is not possible or appropriate for the employee to work remotely, a pragmatic approach is to agree that the employee can take additional annual leave to cover the period until they are able to return to work.  Another option might be to require the employee to take the time as unpaid leave.  Some employers, particularly those who have a strong ‘give and take’ relationship with staff and value staff morale, might agree to let the employee have the additional time as paid leave without requiring additional annual leave to be taken.  There isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach here, so the key is to be flexible and consider the impact of any decisions made upon the business, the employee, and their colleagues.

It seems an extreme response to discipline or dismiss an employee over a delayed return to work due to flight cancellations, and in many situations where an employee went on to bring an unfair dismissal claim, an employer would likely have difficulties demonstrating that such a dismissal was fair.

If you would like to discuss these issues or would like employment law advice, please contact Chris Bushnell or your usual gunnercooke employment law contact.