The Icelandic volcano has left tens of thousands of Britons stranded abroad. ‘In case of volcano’ isn’t a phrase you often see on a contract or in terms and conditions, but the question must be: seeing as many employees simply cannot get home, should they be paid?
Much like the snow situation last year when people were stranded, it depends on how much sympathy you are able to give: one difference this time is that with no warning at all, people on holiday would probably not have the equipment they often keep at home such as laptop, work mobile phone and have access to high-speed internet and other business networks, meaning working remotely becomes even more difficult than usual.
Jim Lister, head of employment at Manchester law firm Pannone, said: "There is no case law on this but generally, an employer only has the duty to pay an employee who is willing and able to do work; if an employee fails to turn up for work the employer is under no legal obligation to pay them. Unless an employer has a contractual power to lay-off, any staff turning up for work should be paid, even in the event that the business is forced to close due to insufficient staff."
Jim added: "As there is no general legal obligation to pay staff unable to get into work, employers could reduce their employees’ pay, force their employees to use their holidays or agree to pay them on the condition that they make up the lost time by working unpaid overtime at a later date."
Are there any reasons to pay staff in this situation then?
"However, taking this approach might have a negative impact on staff morale. It is also worth remembering many staff work additional time for free during the remainder of the year, starting work early or leaving late and they may be less inclined to do so if morale is low. For many employers the loss of morale and the administrative burden of calculating the loss of pay will outweigh the potential benefit."
Ultimately it’s up to the individual employer to work out what’s in the interest of their business, bearing in mind the admin, morale, financial and logistical issues at stake.