What to Do if Your Employee Is Stranded Abroad?

As many of us indulge in the opportunity to travel abroad again following the pandemic, it is important to have the necessary procedures and back up plans in place should your employees get stranded abroad.

Staff shortages at airports following the pandemic are causing delays for thousands of people as they try to return home to the UK from overseas.

According to a recent report by Tui, the UK has been the most badly affected country for flight disruptions in Europe (Tui, 2022). Data analytics company, Cirium, reported that since the start of 2022, 17,000 flights were cancelled with 72 hours of departure in the UK (Cirium, 2022).

As many of us indulge in the opportunity to travel abroad again following the pandemic, it is important to have the necessary procedures and back up plans in place should your employees get stranded abroad.

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Will I (the employee) get paid if I get stranded abroad?

As employees are only entitled to be paid for the work they have done, employers are legally under no obligation to pay employees if they cannot return to work as planned unless the employee’s contract of employment stipulates otherwise.

Some company’s policies have exclusions should employees be unable to return to work due to matters outside their control which may include an airline cancelling flights. Alternatively, some employers may not have this written into the contract but rather they make a judgement call based on the situation and may offer pay during these periods as a goodwill gesture.

In today’s society where more and more of the population are working remotely it may be possible for some to work during the time when stranded so it would be expected that said employees will be paid as usual. This will largely depend on what facilities employees require to complete their work and also the company’s internal policies for security.

It is important to ensure that you are familiar with your company’s particular arrangements for these situations to prepare adequately and reduce as much stress as possible for both parties.

As mentioned, while there is no legal obligation to pay employees who are stranded due to travel disruption, it may prove detrimental for the company to refuse pay. As you might imagine many stranded employees feel that it is unfair to be penalised for something outside their control especially if they have had to pay extra for alternative transport home in a bid to get back to work as soon as possible. Withholding pay is likely to result in low morale which may lead to the employee seeking alternative employment elsewhere.

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What should I (the employer) do if my employee is stranded abroad?

The first thing to remember when you find yourself in a situation where an employee tells you that they are stranded abroad is to stay calm and realise that this is not your employee’s fault. This is out of their control. It is unlikely that your employee is revelling in the news of their flight cancellation with some extra time at a luxury resort “chilling by the pool” and more likely that they are stuck in a crowded airport, queuing to speak to a member of staff for clarification or hunting for a seat / charging point and frantically searching for an alternative way home stressing about how they are going to pay for this.

Depending on your company’s policies and the individual circumstances, you can come to an agreement with your employee on how you will approach this, whether that is offering to extend their annual leave if the employee has not used all of their holiday entitlement for the year, give them unpaid leave, allow them to make the time up over an agreed period of time by amending work patterns or as mentioned above allow them to work remotely until they return to the UK though additional considerations will arise for any more prolonged overseas working.

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What should I (the employer) do to prevent this happening in future?

Sadly, there is no way to prevent this situation occurring.  However, it is sensible to have a business continuity plan in place to outline what is expected from both the employee and the employer in this situation.

Things to consider in this business continuity plan:

  • What you expect from the employee and whether they will be paid for the duration of the period this impacts?
  • Do you have the necessary workforce to continue business as usual, can the work be delegated to others in the team or do you need to take in temporary workers to help support the team?
  • Do you have the required expertise to carry out the required tasks? Any employee can be stranded abroad at any time, if some of your employees are solely responsible for particular tasks then it may be worth investing time into familiarising other members of the team with said tasks. This is something to consider for all employee absences and departures and is good business practice to get staff into the habit of creating instructions for projects they are responsible for.

For the latest information on EU legislation surrounding delayed flights and cancellation please visit the UK Civil Aviation Authority’s website.

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About the author

Tony Gilpin MCMI, CII COP, is a highly respected and chartered industry leader with over 25 years’ experience in travel insurance, tour operators insurance financial failure insurance, travel agents insurance, bonding insurance and the travel industry, specialising in leadership, strategy, sales and account management. He is a Member of the Chartered Management Institute and also holds the Chartered Institute of Insurance's Certificate of Proficiency.