What can a business do if an employee has travelled abroad on holiday but flights from their destination have been stopped or delayed due to adverse weather conditions or problems with air traffic control systems?

Employees who know they are going to miss their first day back at work because flight delays are affecting their return journey have a clear  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 always be followed and almost everyone has a mobile phone so there should be no excuses for employees who fail to get in touch.

If an employee fails to get in touch, this would constitute unauthorised absence. Where normal absence notification procedures have not been followed, the employer should 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 employers will need to keep an open mind.

In most cases, the employee’s absence will probably last only one or two days but you should try to come to an agreement over how to treat 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, then unpaid leave is likely to be the most appropriate option. Technically, 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 potentially be a reason for dismissal but, where an employee has at least two years’ service, dismissals need to be reasonable and meet procedural requirements. Dismissals for absence caused by flight delays are likely to be held to be unreasonable if the employee has a clean disciplinary record. That said, each case will always turn on its facts. Employers should also be careful to ensure that no dismissal is discriminatory.