Now the volcanic dust has settled... (for the time being)
David Malamatenios looks at the long term implications for employers of the recent travel chaos. (as printed in the London Business Matters, June 2010)
It seemed unlikely that a volcano in Iceland could impact on UK employment practice. However, that unlikely scenario now seems a possibility.
The recent volcano induced air travel chaos caused significant disruption to many employers with key members of staff unable to return to work. The brunt of this loss has had to be sustained by employers and there is little that can be done to redress the balance. Making a deduction from an employees salary for any loss suffered by the employer, is, in most cases, out of the question as this would be an unlawful deduction from salary under Part II of the Employment Rights Act (unless the employment contract specifically provided for deductions to be made in this circumstance). It would, however, be legitimate to deduct the unauthorised absence from an employees annual holiday entitlement or to force the employee to take the time as unpaid eave.
But what the wider implications to employment practice? The chaos should (or ought) to make employers look at their absence policies or, for those who do not have an absence policy, to consider implementing one. The advantage of an absence policy is that if such a situation were to re-occur, both employer and employee would know beforehand how the matter will be dealt with. There can be no surprises, no special pleading required and no arguments - just a consistent and clear policy applied equally across the board. The scope for argument, debate and disappointment is therefore minimised and this makes for a much smoother relationship with the employee and prevents workplace discontent.
A good absence policy would set out the employers practice wherever an employee is prevented from returning to work due to causes outside of their control. It will state whether or not the time would be deducted from holiday entitlement or taken as unpaid leave. The policy can also set out holiday entitlements and procedures for booking holidays and reporting absences. The policy must also state what the consequences are when an employee is non compliant with the policy and should detail who is responsible for keeping employees attendance records and who will have access.
To be truly comprehensive, the policy could also set out the employer's practice in relation to other types of absences - such as sickness, absence and compassionate leave. However, it is recommended that complex topics, such as maternity and potentially leave and flexible working arrangements, are left to separate and self contained policies.
Any absence policy needs to be consistently and fairly applied throughout the company. The performance of most employees is negatively impacted when they believe that attendance policies are not fairly enforced and the employer acts in an arbitrary way.
Now that the dust has settled, employers should look at updating and implanting absence policies at the earliest opportunity.
Author: David Malamatenios
Publication: London Business Matters. Download Printed article
Date: June 2010