Rail strikes: how to deal with public transport disruptions

Rail strikes can lead to employees, through no fault of their own, being late for work, or unable to get to work at all. What steps can employers take when employees’ journey to work is disrupted because of a transport strike?

1. Have a policy on disruptions to public transport

Make sure you have a policy in place dealing with disruptions to public transport.

This should cover issues such as the steps your employees are required to take to try to get into work on time, and the consequences of their not being able to make it in – this should reduce the scope for confusion and disagreement.

2. Think of different ways for employees to travel to work

Explore any alternative ways for employees to get into work with them. Options include car sharing if several employees live close together or on the same route.

3. Think of alternative ways of working

Consider if it is necessary for employees to attend the workplace at their normal time or whether there are alternative ways of working.

This could involve issuing employees with laptops, or allowing them to work from home or simply to work flexible hours. Perhaps they could work from an alternative local office until the travel situation improves, or make the time up at a later date.

4. Be more lenient with absence or lateness

Consider how you will treat absence or lateness due to transport disruptions. As a general rule, employees must be ready and willing to perform their duties, so if they are absent from work without authorisation, they are not entitled to be paid.

Having said this, if an employee turns up late or is unable to get to work due to public transport difficulties – something beyond the employee’s control – you may wish to be more lenient. But remember to be consistent in your approach, to avoid discrimination claims.

5. Paid annual leave may be an option for employers

Where employees are unable to get to work, taking paid annual leave may be an option. Employers can require their employees to take annual leave at specific times, but this is subject to rules laid down in the Working Time Regulations 1998.

In the absence of a relevant agreement, employers may require their workers to take leave on particular dates if they give twice as much notice as the duration of the leave. This would mean giving two days’ notice to require a worker to take one day’s leave.

However, even if you can’t give appropriate notice, there is nothing to stop you asking if employees would like to take a day’s holiday if they are unable to get into work on that day. Many employees will find taking paid holiday preferable to losing a day’s pay or agreeing to make the time up at a later date.

6. Employees’ childcare difficulties may lead to time off

Remember that other organisations’ employees may also be having difficulty getting to work, which may have a knock-on effect on your staff.

Where, for example, nurseries are closed due to key staff being unable to get to work, your employees may have no option but to take time off to provide childcare.

This is likely to fall under the right to take reasonable time off in relation to dependants. Time off in these circumstances is unpaid (unless you choose to pay employees or the contract provides for paid leave), and should last only for as long as is necessary to deal with the immediate situation.

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