My employee has travelled abroad during their annual leave, but now there is news that flights from their destination have been stopped due to the weather conditions.

Employees who will miss their first day back at work because flight delays are affecting their return journey have a responsibility to get in touch with their employer to let them know they won't be back in work as planned. Normal absence notification procedures should be followed although it may be helpful if employees speak with their employer as soon as they know that they will not be back in time for work to give as much notice as possible for alternative arrangements to be made. These days, almost everyone has a mobile phone so there shouldn’t really be any employee who does not have the means to quickly get in touch with their employer.

If the employee does not get in touch, it would initially go down as unauthorised absence until they confirmed to you why they were not in. Where normal absence notification procedures have not been followed, find out why. It may be that the timings of their delayed flight meant they were unable to get in touch when they should have, so keep an open mind here.

It is likely that the employee’s absence will last only one or two days but you should try to come to an agreement over how to categorise the absence; for example, you could agree that more annual leave is taken, or the employee could use up some time banked in lieu. In both of these cases, pay will not be affected. If no other arrangement can be made, unpaid leave is likely to be the most appropriate option. Although the employee is not in control of their circumstances, there is no legal obligation to pay employees who are absent for this reason unless their contract contains a provision to the contrary.

Unauthorised absence can be a reason for dismissal but, where an employee has at least two years’ service, dismissals need to be reasonable and meet procedural requirements. Dismissal for absence caused by a flight delay are likely to be unreasonable if the employee has a clean disciplinary record but each case will turn on its facts. Employers should also be careful to ensure that no dismissal is discriminatory.

Further information