What to do when an employee can’t return from holiday as planned

Half term travel chaos has left thousands of British holiday makers unable to get home as planned.

After restrictions on travel during the pandemic put holidays abroad on standby, many people had been really looking forward to their first proper trip this year.

For some, such as teachers and families with school-age children, that meant getting away during the busy school holidays, making this summer half term an extraordinarily high season.

It’s thought that airlines taking on more bookings in a post-COVID-recovery era have not been able to cope with the level of passengers booked. Low levels of airline staff, in part due to pandemic lay-offs and the inability to get security clearance for new recruits in time, will have contributed to the disruption.

A knock-on effect is that employers may find out that an employee is stranded abroad, unable to return to work from their holiday as planned. If this is the first time this has happened, you may be wondering how best to manage this situation.

Keep communication open

Upon first hearing that an employee is stuck abroad and won’t be able to return to work as planned, you’ll need to find out more information.

With mass travel disruption like this, remember that it is not the employee’s fault that they are unable to travel, and so a tolerant and supportive response would be best.

This can be a very stressful situation, especially for working parents who won’t want their children to miss any more schooling. Ask how they are doing and what information they have been given from their airline about alternative travel.

They may be struggling to get an answer from their provider so keep communication open and agree to speak again for an update. It’s important they keep you informed so that you can make any necessary arrangements to staff your business in their absence.

Your options for helping the employee

An employee stuck abroad may feel isolated and helpless. If you’re wondering what you can do to help, there are a couple of options to consider.

Could you agree an extension to their leave? Paid or unpaid?

They may be facing unexpected costs, such as additional airport parking, alternative travel to get home and even extended pet care. At a time when financial well-being is already under strain, you may consider offering them a short-term loan.

If a short-term loan is agreed, see if you can have the terms accepted by email, i.e. how much and how it will be repaid? As a monthly deduction or when they get compensation?

You must get an agreement signed before any deductions are made from the employee’s salary, which can be done when they get home.

The employee may also be concerned about important work piling up whilst they are away. Can you help with distributing some of their work to the team, or updating their out of office message? Doing this can help to manage the expectations of anyone waiting on a reply.

Managing their return to work

You’ll be keen to catch your absent employee up on anything they may have missed. Remember though that they may feel like they have been hurrying home this whole time, no doubt with a story to tell.

Book in some time to make sure they are fit to return, and if so, ease them back to work and inform them on the need-to-knows.

We understand that when an employee doesn’t turn up for work as expected it can throw a spanner in the works for the day-to-day operations of your business. If you’re dealing with this and would like a helping hand from HR, give us a call.