Monday, 10 May 2010

Don't be rash over ash

Shropshire employers are being urged to take a “reasonable” approach when it comes to staff who may be stranded abroad.

Lynsey Woolley, from our Alpha Team, said thousands of people had been affected in the last few weeks by the volcanic eruption in Iceland.

“The disruption caused by the ash cloud caused havoc with flights coming in and out of the UK, and this week’s problems in Scotland and Northern Ireland have shown the crisis may not yet be over. So it’s important that employers prepare themselves for the possibility that we may yet see more flights grounded, causing even greater difficulties for staff who are travelling abroad – particularly in the run-up to the main holiday season.

“The basic legal position is that an employee who is ready and willing to work is entitled to be paid, unless their contract says differently. So employees who may be stranded at home or abroad because of travel problems are considered not able or ready to offer their services, and so don’t have the right to payment.

“And if there is nothing in the employee’s contract, anyone who doesn’t turn up for work because of travel disruption has no right to be paid either, even if the disruption is not their fault.”

Lynsey said some employers were considering asking their staff to take the time they were stranded as enforced holiday, or may decide to dock their pay.

“But of course, this could cause real hostility, and employers should consider staff morale before they go ahead – although doing nothing at all could equally affect the morale of staff who have been left to cover for your absent employee.

“You may feel that travel problems are still comparatively rare events, or short-lived, and that it’s not worth introducing a formal policy because of the negative effect it will bring. Why not explore instead how they may be able to continue their duties while they’re abroad – by email, over the internet, or telephone access in an overseas office?

“By maintaining regular contact with your staff and making sure you have documentary evidence of their transport difficulties, you can ensure that no-one takes advantage of the situation.”