With the travel chaos set to continue for the rest of the week, we’ve received a lot of questions from employers about how to manage unexpected staff absence.

What’s happened?

The fall-out from Sunday’s air traffic control glitch continues and is expected to for the rest of the week. Many pilots and planes are now in the wrong place resulting in hundreds of people stuck abroad without flights.

Stranded passengers do have rights to an alternative flight home, but due to the sheer number of people affected means this could take days to organise.

If this applies to your business, then in the first instance your employee needs to let you know about their situation. If you haven’t heard from your employee, and they have not returned to work as planned, you will need to take the initiative and contact them.

We would encourage you to keep in touch with your employees so that you are updated on progress and when they are likely to return.


You are not legally required to pay your employee if they are not at work and not on annual leave (unless they have a contractual right). So, there are a few options you can take.

Options for employers

  • Take additional annual leave: to cover the extra time away from work, if they have any additional leave available.
  • Agree to make up the missing hours on their return: exchanging the time for work later on down the line.
  • Work from abroad: if this is practical and they have the correct resources with them to be able to do so. Remember that you are responsible for your employees whilst they are working, so you will need to check that they have an appropriate set-up.
  • Take the time as unpaid leave: if your employee is happy to do this. However, bear in mind that they will also be paying for additional accommodation, food and drink at this time whilst attempting to get flights back home.
  • Use the time as additional annual leave: this is down to your company discretion as to whether you’re happy to continue paying them for the time they are away. However, consider whether this may cause resentment with other staff who may have been doing additional work whilst the other employee is away.

What about staff on a business trip?

If a member of staff is away for business purposes, then legally you should pay for the time spent away. You should also pay for additional costs such as accommodation, food and drink.

What about staff due to go on holiday?

Government advice is to check before you travel to ensure that both outbound and inbound flights are running.

Remember these events are out of your employee’s control and asking them to take unpaid leave or penalising them could affect morale. Keep the lines of communication open and offer to support them as much as possible. It is also advisable to update absence policies to include dealing with unforeseen circumstances, so that expectations are clear.