Travel disruption: key information for employers

posted by KeithDaniel

With many front pages claiming that the UK is heading into a 1970’s-style summer of unrest across many sectors, the UK seems set for a summer of travel disruption – it could really be the summer that lasts forever, although not quite the summer of 69 as we know it.

Bryan Adam’s lyrics aside, this article offers some practical guidance for employers where:

  • an employee wishes to cancel or re-arrange planned holiday;
  • an employee is unable to return to the UK as planned; and
  • employees are simply unable to get to their place of work due to domestic travel disruption.

Cancelling / rearranging holiday

Although many employees are looking forward to some long-awaited summer sun, with many flights (including return flights) being cancelled on a daily / weekly basis, not everyone will get away (or return to the UK) as initially planned.

For those who are unable to get away, due to cancelled outward flights, while some workers will continue to take their annual leave, others may prefer to return to work and take their leave at another time and rearrange their holiday.

Practically:

  • Initially employers should check what their contracts of employment / policy documents say around cancelling or changing holiday dates. In the absence of an express right to cancel annual leave, an employer does not have to agree to the cancellation request. In addition, where an employee is looking to re-arrange holidays, technically they should provide twice as much notice for the amount of leave they wish to take i.e. if the worker wants to take five days' leave, they must give at least 10 calendar days' notice – which can be varied by consent.
  • While this gives employers the option to take a strict approach, in our experience, employers are better advised to be flexible and pragmatic where possible - employers will benefit from improved employee relations by cooperating, especially at a time when many sectors are finding it increasingly difficult to find and retain good staff.

Unable to return from holiday as planned

For those who can get away but have difficulty in getting back due to delayed or cancelled flights:

  • Many cautious employees are likely to consider booking extra annual leave as a contingency.
  • For those employees’ who can work remotely, many employees (particularly senior employees) may choose to take their phone and laptop with them to ensure that they have the resources available to continue working. These employees should continue to be paid in the usual way. In the event devices are taken abroad, practically employers should consider any other data security threats, given the increased risk of hacking and cyber fraud when employees are working remotely abroad. The use of VPNs and multi-factor authentication can help to counter these threats, and employers should consider any updates to their cybersecurity policies to address additional safeguards that will operate. Employers should also be mindful to instruct employees to lock devices when not in use and ensure that adequate password protections are in place.
  • Unless a contract or policy states otherwise (which is unlikely), workers stuck abroad who cannot work remotely, or have no means to do so, have no entitlement to be paid for their absence once their annual leave comes to an end. However, assuming employees are making all reasonable efforts to get back to the UK as soon as they can, employers could consider allowing a period of additional annual leave or alternatively treating it in the same way as they would an ‘emergency’ situation, so in the event employers offer pay for a set period of days, to mirror the position. Practically, the discussions should be had with stranded employees as soon as possible, to find a mutually convenient solution depending on their specific circumstances, although employers also need to be mindful of treating employees consistently.

Domestic travel disruption

Closer to home, further rail strikes along with walk outs by bus workers are likely over the coming months.

In terms of employees who can work from home and are not required in work, they will inevitably do so if their usual train /bus journey is severely impacted and there is no convenient alternative. For those employees whose role requires them to be at the workplace, it is an employee’s responsibility to get to and from work and so, if this is not possible, the employer is entitled to regard such absence as unauthorised and is therefore unpaid. However, in the spirit of good employee relations and minimising disruption, forward planning is key. Sufficient notice of the well-advertised strikes means employees have had the opportunity to explore alternative modes of transport. Employees should be encouraged to raise any concerns in order that alternative options / a work around can be explored which may include altering working hours / patterns and/or offering financial assistance where possible to mitigate the disruption caused. 

Please contact us if you would like more information about the issues raised in this article or any other aspect of employment law at 029 2034 5511 or employment@berrysmith.com