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What should HR do if an employee is stranded abroad?

Widespread flight disruption has left thousands of passengers stranded since the bank holiday (28 August), leaving some employees unable to get to work.

A network-wide failure in air traffic control has reportedly caused the issue which forced the cancellation of more than 1,200 flights. 

Thousands of travellers have been stranded due to the cancellation and more than 200,000 people have affected by delays and cancellations. 

Passengers have been warned to expect continued knock-on disruption all week.

Read more: Workers stranded by Icelandic volcano travel chaos have no legal entitlement to pay

There are a variety of options HR leaders can take to support employees if they are affected by the delays.

Jen Locklear, chief people officer at automation company ConnectWise advised discretion.

Speaking to HR magazine, she said: “In terms of how being stranded impacts annual leave—it shouldn’t. Your employee does not want to be stranded, so your best bet is to take great care of them and thank them for their dedication to the company.”

Locklear said HR should proactively support stranded employees who are likely to be under a lot of stress.

She said: “Few things seem easy these days, but this is a great opportunity to do the right thing by your employee.

“Start with establishing a single point of contact within the company who will focus on working on transportation alternatives for the employee. At the very least, your person will not feel alone.  

“Secondly, ensure that the basics are covered: check your colleague is able to purchase food, has a place to stay, and has access to their luggage (or the ability to buy the essentials if their belongings are inaccessible).  

“If the stranded colleague has dependents back home, offer to ship them food, set up dog walkers, stay in contact with the family. 

“This will create loyalty and the opportunity for a stronger employment brand and colleague experience.” 

Kate Palmer, HR consultancy director at HR service provider Peninsula, said employees have a responsibility to get in touch with their employer to let them know they won't be back in work as planned.

Speaking to HR magazine, she said: “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 confirm 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.”

Palmer said employers are not obligated to pay the employee as normal unless they use annual leave.

She added: “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. 

“If no other arrangement can be made, unpaid leave is likely to be the most appropriate option. There is no legal obligation to pay employees who are absent for this reason unless their contract says otherwise.”