MERSEYSIDE employers are facing a legal headache when dealing with workers left stranded by the volcanic ash cloud.
A six-day no-fly-zone left an estimated 150,000 Britons overseas and facing huge delays getting back to the UK. It caused holidays to overrun and left many businesses short-staffed.
Now managers and business owners have to decide how to account for their workers’ extra time off and whether to pay them for it. Stephen Robinson, a partner in DLA Piper’s North West employment team, last night advocated a flexible approach.
He told LDP Legal: “Generally speaking, no matter what the obstacle is, the onus is on employees to make every attempt to get to work. If a place of work is open and some employees fail to turn up, their employer is technically under no legal obligation to pay them.
“However, unlike the snow and ice earlier this year, this latest event is incredibly unusual and is likely to affect employees who are either abroad on holiday or already out of the country with work. Bosses should be mindful of the practicalities involved – with flights delayed and alternative routes clogged, getting back to the UK will not be an easy feat. If there are no viable alternative methods of transport available, affected employers should look at encouraging employees to work remotely if possible, taking further holiday or unpaid leave to cover the time off, or agreeing that time off will be made up at a later date.”
But Halliwell’s employment associate Philip Hodges said businesses could take a more hard-line approach. He said: “It is a fundamental principle of the employment relationship that an employee is ready and willing to provide work.
“If an employee is not able to attend work for whatever reason, including an ‘Act of God’, as this has been described, they are not fulfilling their obligations and so strictly speaking are not entitled to wages.
“It is always advisable to be reasonable and pragmatic in these circumstances. If employers can agree with the employee that the time should be taken as paid holiday, unpaid leave or allow the employee to make up the time later, they should do so.”
Employment experts at DWF said bosses need to scour their contracts for guidance. If none is forthcoming, there are three options: treat the time as unpaid leave; give the employee the option of treating the time off as unpaid leave or retrospectively as annual leave; or Pay the employees some or all of their salary.
But DWF’s Tim Scott added: “Employers should carefully consider which option to take, as a precedent for the future treatment of employees will likely be set.”