Keys to the castle

The story in the news this week about more than fifty commuters waiting outside Oxford train station whilst their trains to London arrived and departed without them, beggar’s belief in this day and age; not least because the reason for this was that the only employee with a set of keys had “decided not to come in”.

The incident highlights the importance of contingency planning for all businesses.  GWR in this case should have had more than one employee with a set of keys and those London companies whose staff were unable to make it to work on time that day presumably had arrangements in place to ensure their business could function in the event of an unexpected absence.  It would be difficult to be less organised that GWR, let’s face it….

When employees cannot get into work for reasons such as adverse weather conditions or industrial action, employers should be asking what contingency arrangements do we have and, importantly, do we need to pay our staff if they can't get to work?

Working from home policies can be useful in these situations, having flexibility in terms of a late start or early finish, or, where you operate at more than one site, sending the employee to an alternative location if it is within reasonable travelling distance.

Companies may provide alternative travel arrangements such as a bus or car sharing, but health and safety should be of paramount concern – especially in adverse weather conditions, or if the employee has a disability or is pregnant.

Alternatively, you could permit staff to make up their hours on another day, or provide limited paid leave. However, that could cause potential employee relations issues if some staff make a huge effort to get into work only to see colleagues who live near them being paid to stay at home.  You could agree for absence to be counted against holiday entitlement, assuming there is sufficient leave left, and this should be agreed in writing. For unexpected disruptions, such as a child being ill or a nursery being closed, employees have a right to take ‘reasonable’ time off as dependant's leave, though this does not have to be paid unless the employer agrees otherwise.

If disruption is foreseeable, such as a rail strike, employers can insist that employees take the absence as holiday by giving notice – the requirement under the Working Time Regulations 1998 is to give double the amount of notice as to leave, so two full days' notice for one day's leave – and this is applicable to statutory annual leave only. Again, this approach could be curtailed both by how much leave an employee has left and whether the company has the appetite to handle any employee and industrial relations fall-out from disgruntled staff or unions.


Authors: Polly Davies

Published: 25 Jul 2017


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