Stranded Staff: Who Pays?

Last Updated Apr 20, 2010 5:13 AM EDT

Flights to the UK resume tomorrow, but the ash from the Iceland's Eyjafjallajokull has left a million UK citizens stranded overseas -- some of whom were away on Easter break and haven't made it back, some on business.
How should you handle the situation? I spoke to Sarah Lee at the Federation of Small Businesses about what managers must do under law and how they can find work-arounds for unexpected absences.
If you're an employee on holiday and have been delayed getting back, the company's financial obligation to you is restricted. "An employer is obliged to pay only for work completed. There is no obligation to pay for undone work even under exceptional circumstances," says Lee.
It's at your employer's discretion if they pay employees in this situation. While a failure to show up to work is a disciplinary infraction, most employers will apply common sense and flexibility in this situation. Lee outlines possible options for handling the pay issue:
  1. Regard the period as unpaid leave.
  2. Take it as annual leave and deduct it accordingly from annual leave payment.
  3. Pay your employer now in exchange for work that is to be done on a later date.
  4. Pay your employer without negotiating any settlement.
If you've got stuck while away on business, says Lee, responsibility lies with the employer: "Your employee wouldn't have been there if not for the business and the whole purpose of the trip was to carry out official duties, so the employer is under complete obligation to pay individuals."

But employers can request -- or insist, depending on your contract -- that you carry on working while you're stranded, especially if you've got the wherewithal to work remotely. After all, if Norway's prime minister (pictured) can run the country from his iPad, what's to stop you getting your work done?

So, financial obligation employers have to employees is pretty clear but how are employers dealing with unexpected shortages in workforce?

Most likely scenario is that those who are here pick up the slack -- just make sure you're ticking all the compliancy boxes, warns legal firm DLA Piper (Working Time Directive, health and safety).

The British Chambers of Commerce advises that all businesses should have a business continuity plan, but there are likely to be companys that have been caught out without one. This may actually result in more creative responses to covering unexpected absences.

Have you had employees, colleagues or managers who have been stranded away from the UK, on holiday or on business? How are you coping? Post your comments below.

(statsministerens kontor, CC2.0)