Handling the Fallout from Acts of God - BUSINESS MAGAZINE


2 mins

Posted on 23 Aug 2010

Swine flu, snowstorms, volcanic ash clouds … over the last year nature has seemed determined to disrupt UK business.  But what can employers do when faced with staff absence due to such “Acts of God”? 

Some of the options available are:

  • Authorise absence – the easiest but most costly option.  Employers should set a limit or apply conditions to avoid excessive exposure
  • Insist that employees take time off as holiday. Employers must first check their policies to see if they can dictate when employees take holiday.  If not, they should seek an agreement with them.
  • Specify that absence is taken as unpaid leave. There is no automatic right to payment unless the contract of employment says so, but many employees may consider that they are harshly treated if they have pay docked through no fault of their own.  

Potential claims from affected employees could include unlawful deduction from wages, breach of contract or even constructive dismissal.It is important that employers try to act consistently and ensure that, wherever one group is treated differently, there is good reason for it.  Following the recent travel chaos from the volcanic ash cloud, for instance, an employee stranded in Scotland could be expected to make alternative arrangements to get home, whereas those stranded abroad may not be able to return without incurring exorbitant cost and inconvenience.  Some employers were able to assist in repatriating their employees and were willing to help fund those who made obvious efforts to return home.What if employees are willing to work but no work is available?  For example workers connected with the airline industry when airspace is closed.  If employers cannot provide work because of unforeseen circumstances, they still have to pay employees available for work unless there is an agreement to the contrary.  The alternative is to lay off workers or even consider redundancy, but the disruption may only be for a short period, and such measures seem extreme.An employee who finds themselves stranded should immediately contact their employer and offer to work if they can, particularly as many are able to log in or work remotely.  They should also keep a record of the efforts made to find alternative routes home where this is realistic.As with any unforeseen circumstances, a degree of flexibility and common sense must be required on both sides if employers and their employees are to limit the fallout.

Piers Leigh-Pollitt, Partner

The articles published on this website, current at the date of publication, are for reference purposes only. They do not constitute legal advice and should not be relied upon as such. Specific legal advice about your own circumstances should always be sought separately before taking any action.