Iceland Volcano: Forum advises businesses how to manage stranded staff

The Forum of Private Business is advising smaller employers affected by the volcano in Iceland erupting to be flexible with stranded staff – but know when to draw the line on unpaid leave.

Many small businesses are continuing to struggle in the wake of the worst recession in a generation and employers should be aware of the impact on cash flow of a drop in productivity because of employee absence, particularly with signs that demand is improving.

The Forum, which guides its members through their employment law obligations and responsibilities, is urging firms to keep in regular communication with staff stuck abroad and unable to make it back to work.

Unless remote working is an option, businesses could offer staff discretionary paid leave for a fixed period. However, there is no compulsion to do so and this should be followed by an offer of unpaid leave or suggesting that absent workers take additional holidays covering the period they are away.

“The key thing is to keep in touch so you have the fullest information possible about your employees and their travel situation,” said the Forum’s Employment Adviser Ross Meadows, of Mace and Jones Solicitors. “Obviously it’s not their fault that they are unable to make it to work so it’s down to an employer’s discretion whether or not to offer paid leave, at least up to a point.

“But, after a certain time, it is advisable that this becomes unpaid leave unless the staff member wants to take extra holidays.

“Hopefully more airports will open shortly and, despite the inevitable backlog, the situation should improve soon and employers will get their people back.”

There are other options available for businesses in order to address the problem. Forum member Chris Sinclair, a Director of the computer software firm 3Si Ltd, which is based in Newcastle Under Lyme in Staffordshire, has an employee stuck in the US. Mr Sinclair contacted the Forum for advice.

“She is stuck out there with her family. We’ve now spoken to her – it’s going to be a fortnight before she gets back and she’s already been on holiday for two weeks,” he said later. “But she has the ability to connect to the internet, log into the office and work from home – only for half a day because of the time difference. What she does for the rest of the day is entirely up to her.

“It’s really important to be flexible. Our employee doesn’t want to lose more holidays or pay and we’ve been able to lessen any impact by using the technology at our disposal to set up a transient office – it’s a win-win situation.”

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