The current European airspace closures due to volcanic ash from Iceland have left many employees stranded at their holiday destinations or on business trips.
Under these circumstances, when an employee is unable to get a flight home, must you pay salary for days he or she is unable to work?
Employee stuck at his or her holiday destination
The employment contract will be suspended for force majeure if either party (the employee or the employer) is temporarily unable to fulfil his or her essential obligations thereunder due to unforeseeable circumstances outside the control of that party.
The current airspace closures will be considered an event of force majeure, justifying suspension of the employment contract. However, the employee should take all necessary but reasonable steps to return home with an alternative means of transport.
Under these circumstances, the employee is, as a general rule, not entitled to receive salary, unless the missed working days could be considered temporary unemployment, in which case the employee could qualify for unemployment benefits due to temporary unemployment as a result of force majeure. In this respect, the employer should file a request for unemployment benefits with the local unemployment authority. The Belgian unemployment authority (RVA/ONEM) has indicated that, under the present circumstances, requests for unemployment benefits will be analysed on a case-by-case basis.
However, with the employer's approval, the employee can either use his or her holidays to make up for the missed working days, so as to continue to receive salary, or take an unpaid leave.
Employee stuck on business trip abroad
The abovementioned rules will apply.
However, specific rules could apply for employees who cannot continue to work due to the airspace closures (e.g., an employee who had a business meeting abroad last Friday and could not return to Belgium afterwards to continue their work, due to flight cancellations). These employees can claim guaranteed salary.
Further, as a general rule, an employee who arrives late or fails to arrive at work can claim guaranteed salary, provided the delay or absence is due to an unforeseen event, outside the employee's control, that occurs on the way to work.
Last, the employer should take all necessary but reasonable steps to provide the employee with an alternative means of transport.