Eruption and disruption

FRANCES BARKER, employment partner at Blocks Solicitors, assesses the options for employers in relation to staff stranded abroad by volcanic ash

AS IF the dark clouds of recession were not enough, volcanic ash has caused considerable disruption at work.

A small world when it comes to epic ash, it is still a large one for travellers when planes are grounded.

The immediate questions for business are: what can you do if staff are stuck abroad, and must you pay them?

If you sent them away on business, then it’s your problem and you must pay wages as normal.

If they went on holiday, the answer is that not much can be done about lost work, unless they can work from wherever they are.

Although strictly an unauthorised absence, it would not be a disciplinary matter unless you really have good reason to believe they are staying away on purpose.

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The starting point with pay is that, because they were not available for work, they have no right to be paid for it. A few may have contractual rights in place giving pay, but with most it will be matter of deciding how the time is to be regarded.

A part-timer could be paid but asked to make the time up by working extra unpaid hours in future, or a full-timer do so outside normal hours.

Consider also whether they should be offered pay if the delayed return is taken out of their holiday entitlement. It may be unwise to treat stressful waiting around as part of the restful 28 days legal holiday entitlement but if they were on beach then, arguably, you could; it all depends on the facts of the case.

The treatment of employees will be another stark example of the difference between the public and private sector.

Preserving good will may be key, especially if the employee has been forced to over-spend on a miserable experience. Insult to injury will not be appreciated, and there is much goodwill to gain by being kind when things are difficult.

If you do decide to pay them, it is worth asking them to try to reclaim the “lost” wages on their insurance, but don’t hold your breath…

As always, communication is crucial – from a stranded employee, who should keep you fully posted; discussion with the employee on return; and with employees generally about what they are expected to do in future if that unspellable volcano doesn’t give up smoking soon.

And the eruption is another good reason to have key worker replacement plans in place.

It is a novelty, though – a business problem that cannot be blamed on either the Government or the banks!

Or can it?

Frances Barker is employment partner at Blocks Solicitors. She can be contacted on 01473 343911 or at This article is her general opinion and specific advice should be taken before action.