What can you do if your employees are stranded abroad due to striking air traffic controllers?

Once again, air traffic control workers in France are staging strikes, this time in protest over labour reforms. The BBC reported that about 350 Ryanair and Easyjet flights were cancelled on 21st March, which is likely to have caused major disruption to travellers and of course to employers, whose employees do not return to work on time.

Although such a situation is likely to be out of the employee’s control, there are a few steps you might expect an employee to take:

  • The employee should keep you fully updated as to when they believe they will be able to get back, along with details of what steps they are taking to return.
  • They should continue to follow any absence reporting procedures in place, although these could be modified by agreement if, for example, it was going to be expensive for the employee to call from another country.
  • The employee should take reasonable steps to get back as soon as possible, in order to limit the impact of their absence. Whilst it wouldn’t usually be reasonable to expect the employee to incur significant additional cost by amending their travel plans, if they can make different arrangements at no extra or only minor additional cost (such as by transferring to alternative flights from other airports or by switching to rail travel where possible) you might suggest that they would be expected to do this. Bear in mind, however, that with so many passengers potentially delayed and seeking alternative routes home, their options might be limited. What is reasonable will depend on the circumstances and will no doubt be open to debate.

Theoretically, the absence could be treated as unauthorised. However, where the employee’s absence is caused by circumstances out of their control, it may be unreasonable to do so. In the circumstances, one option would be to ask the employee whether they would like to take the leave as unpaid or use further holidays from any outstanding leave entitlement.

Of course, if the employee has given misleading information about the reason why they were not able to return to work when required, this could lead to disciplinary action being taken against them.

Ellis Whittam clients who are affected by such events should speak to their Employment Law Adviser.

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