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How should HR teams support employees stranded abroad?

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Air traffic control failure sparks travel chaos

The aftermath of the recent bank holiday (28 August) has resulted in a significant upheaval in air travel, with numerous passengers finding themselves stranded and several employees unable to reach their workplaces.

An extensive breakdown in air traffic control systems is believed to be responsible for the widespread problem, leading to the cancellation of over 1,200 flights.

The consequences have been substantial, leaving thousands of travellers marooned due to flight cancellations. The disruption has rippled across the travel plans of more than 200,000 individuals, causing substantial delays and cancellations.

Travellers have been cautioned to brace themselves for ongoing disturbances throughout the week. HR leaders have a range of options at their disposal to aid affected employees in these circumstances.

ConnectWise’s Chief People Officer, Jen Locklear, offered guidance, suggesting a considerate approach. In an interview she emphasised that days of work missed because of being stranded shouldn’t impact an employee’s annual leave. The foremost approach is to support them wholeheartedly and express gratitude for their dedication to the company.

Locklear advised HR to proactively assist stranded employees, acknowledging the likely stress they are experiencing. She recommended, “Begin by assigning a designated point of contact within the organisation who will concentrate on exploring alternative transportation options for the employee. This, at the very least, will help the individual feel supported.”

She further added, “Secondly, ensure that essential needs are met: confirm the employee’s access to food, accommodation, and personal belongings (or the means to obtain necessities in case belongings are inaccessible). If the stranded employee has dependents at home, extend assistance such as delivering food or arranging pet care and maintain communication with their family. This gesture will foster loyalty and contribute to a positive employment reputation and experience.”

Kate Palmer, HR Consultancy Director at Peninsula, a HR service provider, emphasised the employees’ responsibility to communicate with their employers if they cannot return to work as planned. Palmer noted, “In today’s world, nearly everyone possesses a mobile phone, minimising the possibility of an employee being unable to promptly reach out to their employer. Failure to establish communication could initially be treated as unauthorised absence, until the reasons for their absence are clarified.”

Addressing payment during such absences, Palmer clarified that employers are not obligated to maintain regular payment unless the employee uses their annual leave. She suggested, “The absence is likely to be brief, lasting a day or two. It’s advisable to find common ground regarding categorising the absence; an option could be agreeing on additional annual leave.”

“In instances where no other arrangement can be reached, unpaid leave is a viable consideration. Unless the employment contract specifies otherwise, there is no legal obligation to provide payment to employees absent due to these circumstances,” she added.