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When the world’s oldest travel firm Thomas Cook collapsed in the early hours of Monday morning, all flights were cancelled, leaving thousands of people stranded all over the world. The repatriation effort to bring people home is underway, but how do you handle this extraordinary situation if your employee has not returned to work?

There are many reasons why an employee might not return from holiday, but there are certain obligations on them to make every effort to contact the employer to explain the situation and give some indication of when they are likely to be back in work.  If the employee doesn’t make contact, then you should try to get in touch with them, documenting the process; you will then need to decide whether or not to treat the absence as unauthorised and potentially deal with it under your disciplinary procedures.

Whilst you are under no obligation to pay the employee in a situation such as this, you may decide to take a pragmatic approach and pay for some or all of the lost days.  However, you need to ensure that you treat everyone the same; think about how you will manage similar situations in the future such as someone not being able to get into work because of bad weather.  You may be making a rod for your own back!

If paying for the absence is not an option, and the employee has no annual leave left, then you could offer a flexible solution, such as allowing them to work additional hours to make up the time, taking holiday from next year’s allocation or taking the leave as unpaid.

Employers should always ensure they have robust policies in place and whilst there may not be a specific policy on failure to return from a holiday you should consider setting out some general principles and draw these to the attention of the employee.