Swoosh swoosh down the mountain of annual leave - Top tips for dealing with problematic ski trips

February 10, 2015

The ski season is upon us and it is important that you have a clear policy on how to deal with leave requests. You might be worried that your employees will injure themselves during their holiday. You might also be wondering what will happen if your employees are unable to return back to work due to delayed flights or being snowed in. We may not have any influence over the weather, but our practical advice for avoiding the pitfalls of the ski season should help you deal with these issues.

Managing Holiday Requests

When managing requests for holiday, you must first decide your minimum staff requirements. You will have to consider your business needs in order to determine how many employees should work at any given time to ensure that the business runs smoothly. When you are considering the requests, the key is to treat all requests fairly and consistently. You should refer back to the employee’s contract of employment and your staff handbook, which should clearly set out a policy on leave requests and how they should be dealt with. For instance, your policy should include, amongst other things, the following:

  • a minimum period of notice when requesting leave to ensure suitable cover can be arranged if necessary; and
  • that the request is subject to approval and the employer has the right to refuse a request in good faith and on reasonable and objective grounds.

It can also be good practice to circulate a holiday planner, or use a shared calendar on your Outlook, to ensure that the process is transparent and your employees will be able to plan around each other where possible.

Be clear on rules around injuries and sickness

The policy could also deal with situations where employees have injuries or develop an illness on holiday. EU case law has established that in those situations, an employer’s safest option is to reinstate the worker’s holiday entitlement for the affected days. However, it will be worth taking steps to protect yourself against this policy being abused.

Clear requirements, such as notification and the production of evidence, should be set out in the policy. For instance, under your normal sickness absence policy, you may require your employee to produce a note from a GP if the employee has been away from work for more than seven days. However, if an employee develops an illness on holiday you may want to have a procedure in place which requires the employee not only to inform you about their illness as soon as practicable but also provide you with a note from a doctor from the first day of their illness. The employee will have to comply with these requirements in order for you to treat the time away as sick leave and pay accordingly. Non-compliance with these rules could potentially lead to disciplinary action.

In addition to the above, you could also consider including some wording in relation to situations where an employee recovers loss of earnings from their insurance company, due to the injury suffered on the holiday. In these situations, the policy could state that the employee must pay you back any sick pay received from you. Consider whether you also want to add such a clause to the contract of employment.

Unauthorised Absence

If an employee returns back to work a few days late because they were snowed in or their flights were delayed, you are entitled to treat this as unauthorised absence. Make sure that your staff handbook sets out a procedure to be followed in such situations. For instance, you may want to include the following in your policy:

  • the employee must notify you as soon as practicable that they will not be able to return back to work on the agreed date;
  • the employee must provide evidence, such as a copy of the original booking and a notice of the delayed flight from the airline; and
  • the employee must take annual leave (if they have any days left) or it will be treated as unpaid leave.

The staff handbook could also, for example, contain a section encouraging employees to allow themselves extra holiday time in case of travel delays or jet lag. This can reduce the risk of unauthorised absence following pre-booked holidays. If someone is going long-haul you may want to ask them when their flight gets in and if you do not think they will be fit for work, you could require them to take an additional day’s holiday.

If, after having considered the explanation and evidence, you find it to be insufficient, you may want to carry out an investigation, followed possibly by disciplinary action. However, it is not always appropriate to start disciplinary action and will depend on the individual circumstances. Your decision should be justified, consistent and documented.

Updating your policy

If your current policy does not adequately deal with these issues and needs updating, it might be too late for this ski season, but make sure that you upgrade before the summer holiday requests start coming in. If you need some support with this, please feel free to contact any member of the hrlaw team at Fox Williams.

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