Volcanic Ash Absences

A practical guide to dealing with no fault absences

Following the recent volcanic eruption and the subsequent closure of British airports employers may be faced with the dilemma of what to do when employees, who have been stranded or delayed, are unable to come to work through no fault of their own.

Whilst it is of course very rare for employees to be kept away from the workplace by clouds of volcanic ash there may be other situations where employers have to come to a decision as to whether or not staff will be paid for “no fault” absences. For example, during the winter months adverse weather conditions may prevent staff from reaching the workplace or alternatively during the summer months holiday flights may be cancelled or delayed.

In any situation where employees are unable to come to work effectively through no fault of their own, it is important for clear guidance to be given by employers to manage expectations and avoid disputes.

There are a number of options available to employers in dealing with no fault absences. Strictly speaking, an employee who fails to turn up to work due to a cancelled flight for example has no right to be paid unless of course their contract of employment says otherwise. So, a strict approach could be taken but what if the employee in question is stranded while on business related travel? In such circumstances the employee would be likely to feel aggrieved and so employers would be wise to consider a more flexible approach.

A more flexible approach to no fault absences could be to treat such absences as unpaid leave or alternatively giving employees the option to take the time off as paid annual leave.

Whichever approach is taken it will always be necessary to keep regular contact with absent employees to gauge their likely return date and employers may wish to consider putting into practice a policy dealing with no fault absences in order to be prepared for similar issues in the future. As ever, the emphasis should be on dealing with matters reasonably and consistently.

This article was written by Lara Murray, a Solicitor in our Employment Team.