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Can I discipline employees who fail to return from annual leave on time?

View profile for Natasha Johnston
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Employers should be mindful of adopting a blanket approach when it comes to managing situations where employees fail to return on time from planned annual leave. 

There may be genuine reasons that prevent employees from returning to work as planned, and it is sensible for employers to be reasonable in their response. For example, many holidaymakers got caught up in the drone attacks at Heathrow airport last year. As an employer, you should take care to identify the root cause of the issue before you settle upon your approach to managing the situation. Some key considerations when making your decision should be: 

  • Travel disruption – employees may allude to issues at the airport, or with transfers, to justify their later-than-usual return. Do what you can to verify this, either via news reports for major travel disruption, or by asking your employee if they can obtain confirmation from their travel provider that disruption occurred on the specified return journey. Then you can assess how serious the disruption was. For example, an ash cloud preventing all flights would be more serious than a single strike by a specified airline.
  • Poor planning – it is inevitable that some employees will have made poor or last-minute holiday plans that prevent them from returning to work on time.  For example, did the employee fail to pre-book a return journey or have unrealistic travel plans? For example, did they try to travel home on the day of their scheduled night or evening shift?
  • Illness that has prevented travel – some employees or members of the travel party may be taken ill abroad and so they might not be permitted to fly. You should factor in how difficult it would have been for them to travel back by alternative means. It may be that the person taken ill is a dependent of your employee, so one could not leave without the other. In this case, a statutory right to reasonable time off becomes apparent.  
  • Did the employee attempt to notify you? – an honest attempt to keep you informed of the situation is invaluable when managing the impact of absence. It may also demonstrate that the situation was genuinely unavoidable for the employee. 
  • Your company policies – finally, where you have a policy in place, it is best practice to outline in this policy how late returns from annual leave will be managed, to ensure consistent treatment of all staff.

If you would like to discuss the contents of this article further, please feel free to contact Natasha Johnston on 01792 525478 or by emailing: natasha.johnston@jcpsolicitors.co.uk.  

Natasha is an HR Advisor within JCP's HR Services team. The team provide outsourced HR support and ongoing advice and guidance to the firm's business clients. Natasha’s experience includes providing HR advice and guidance on complex HR issues such as attendance, grievance, capability and disciplinary matters. Natasha can also provide advice and support on policy drafting and implementation, TUPE and Redundancy processes.

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