Managing in a crisis: holiday over-stays

The popular tourist destination of Sharm El Sheikh has been in the news for all the wrong reasons these past few weeks. A number of airlines recently suspended flights to and from the resort’s airport due to security concerns. This comes a few weeks after the British Government halted flights to and from Sharm El Sheikh for security reasons leaving thousands of holiday-makers stranded waiting to get home. Employees due back to work were unable to return owing to circumstances beyond their control. In such situations it is important for employers to know their rights and duties in relation to such employees.

Generally, employees have a duty to turn up and work and employers have the obligation to provide work and to pay the employees for that work. On the other hand, if an employee does not meet their obligation due to unauthorised absence from work then it could be argued that the employer’s duty to pay them does not apply. It’s worth bearing in mind though that employees have certain legal rights such as the statutory right to unpaid time off for family emergencies, the right not to suffer unlawful deductions from wages, and discrimination.

Unauthorised absence

Employers are only entitled to withhold pay if the employee’s absence is unauthorised. Usually, unauthorised absence may be dealt with in line with an organisation’s disciplinary policy. Employers need to be cautious as to whether the terms in their employment contracts clarify if absence due to unforeseen circumstances (such as cancelled flights) is classed as unauthorised absence. Deductions from pay will be unlawful unless the employment contract allows employers to do this.

Exercising discretion

Employers may wish to exercise their discretion in such cases but must be consistent in their treatment of employees to avoid possible discrimination.

Holiday entitlement

A common sense approach to the issue of absences due to reasons beyond the employee’s control may be to allow the employees to take the time off as paid holiday or to allow them to make up for the time within an agreed timescale. This would be a more practical way of dealing with such an issue as opposed to docking pay.

Finally employers should:

• Highlight to employees the importance of reporting absences properly to allow for the organisation to make contingency plans.

• Consider amending standard terms of employment to clarify what circumstances amount to unauthorised absence and in what situations organisations can make deductions from salary

• Carry out regular risk assessments, check the latest employment law practices, and develop or review crisis management procedures for use in case of emergency

This article is a summary of a CIPD news article which can be accessed in full here

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