Opinion

Many happy (late) returns

How many employers have wondered if an excuse is genuine when an employee rings in - from holiday - saying that they'll be a few days late when coming back to work? A recent case -  Bhopal v Virgin Media Ltd - offers a little guidance on the matter.

In February 2010 Mr B requested two weeks annual leave for a holiday. His request was approved and he was due to return to work on 6 April. But on 6 April, B phoned his manager and said he was unable to get a flight back home. He telephoned twice again and told his manager he was still unable to get a return flight. On 16 April, B told his employer that volcanic ash from Iceland had grounded all flights to the UK.

B eventually returned on 26 April. When questioned he produced evidence of his ticket, which had a fixed return date of 30 April. B said his travel agent told him that he could change his ticket when he arrived in India. However, B had waited until the end of his trip until attempting to do so.

At the disciplinary hearing, Mr B alleged that the ticket had been booked by his father, and he only became aware of the fixed return date a few days before he was due to leave the UK. The disciplinary officer concluded that Mr B had intended to remain in India beyond his authorised leave period and that he only attempted to change his return ticket after his manager informed him that absence without leave was a serious matter. He was dismissed for gross misconduct.

Mr B claimed unfair dismissal but the Tribunal held the employer had carried out a fair investigation, and that the reason for the dismissal was the company's genuine belief in Mr B's misconduct. The Tribunal held that the company's belief was reasonable and the decision to dismiss Mr B fell within the band of reasonable responses.

This was first published in June 2011

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