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Travel disruption and adverse weather: issues for employers

stormWith over 100,000 people travelling over the River Forth each day, the closure of the Forth Road Bridge is going to cause significant disruption for commuters in the central belt of Scotland.

And although there is a significant clean-up operation underway following Storm Desmond, many roads remain closed and railway lines flooded thereby adding to the chaos. We’ve set out below some of the questions employers will likely be considering in these circumstances.

Do we have to pay employees if they cannot get to work?

Unless there is a contractual provision entitling them to pay, if an employee cannot come into work and carry out the job they are paid to do, you are not obliged to pay them.

However, whilst there may be no requirement to pay employees, there can be other reasons to consider not making deductions, including:

• Impact on employee relations – Deducting wages, especially at this time of year, could have a negative impact on employee relations and morale. Both CIPD and ACAS advise taking a flexible approach when employees cannot get to work.

• Sick leave – When employees know they are not going to be paid if they cannot make it to work, there may be a temptation to call in sick and receive sick pay. This could lead to an increase in sickness absence and potential resentment of employees who do manage to get into work.

• Bad publicity – Larger employers may wish to consider the impact of receiving negative press coverage if they deduct wages in these circumstances.

If you decide to simply pay employees as normal, be aware that this could set a precedent for the future. It is therefore best to make it clear (preferably in writing), that payment is being made as a gesture of goodwill in the circumstances and that any such decisions in the future will be made on a case-by-case basis.

What are the alternative ways of dealing with employees who cannot get to work/cannot get to work for their normal working hours?

There are alternatives open to you for dealing with employees who cannot get to work, other than deducting pay.

• Home working – you should encourage those who are able to work from home to do so. You will want to have made sure in advance that your IT system is able to cope with an increased number of users logging in remotely.

• Flexibility – you may wish to be flexible about start and finish hours given that workers may want to start their working day earlier so as to avoid having to travel on crowded trains and buses.

• Alternative work sites – if you have other work sites, you could consider allowing employees to work from such alternative sites.

• Workplace closure – there may be circumstances where it is more economical to close the business for the day, for example where a large number of employees cannot make it into work or the weather conditions affect the business. In such circumstances, the employees would still have to be paid.

• Use of annual leave – you could ask employees if they would prefer to use annual leave rather than go unpaid for absences. However, forcing all employees to take an absence as annual leave could prove tricky as there are special notice provisions which apply when an employer requires an employee to take holiday from their statutory leave.

• Time limited paid absences – if you do decide that you will pay for absence due to adverse weather or travel disruption, you may wish to make clear in writing that this will be time limited.

• Making up the hours – if an employee cannot manage in, you could ask them to make up their hours at an alternative time.

What should we do if we suspect that an employee is being untruthful about travel difficulties?

Consideration should be given to instigating a disciplinary investigation if you suspect that an employee has not provided sufficient justification for why they could not get into work. If you have good reason to suspect that an employee is being untruthful about travel difficulties, you could start disciplinary action.

What else should we be considering?

As an employer you have a duty, as far as practicable, to ensure the health, safety and welfare of your employees at work. Employees should not be encouraged to travel in dangerous weather, either during working hours or when travelling to and from work. Also, where the weather deteriorates during the working day, or is forecast to do so, allowing employees to leave early should be considered.

It makes sense to have an adverse weather/travel disruption policy or statement in place to avoid disruption to your business. This will avoid confusion as to what employees should do when problems arise and clarify what your expectations of employees are.

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