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How do rail strikes impact employers?

The UK has been impacted heavily by national rail strikes over recent months, due to ongoing disputes over pay.  But how do rail strikes impact employers?  What happens if an employee can’t make it in to work because of a strike?

Employers should be prepared for the strikes

Employers should try and accommodate all reasonable requests by employees who are making their best efforts to come into work during strikes, including allowing staff to come in late or leave early where necessary.

Employers should not unreasonably discipline employees who are genuinely unable to make it to work or who are late. There are no legal requirements about what businesses must do but thinking outside the box will be a key consideration for critical staff in certain industries.

Make travel disruptions part of your company policy

Businesses should have a policy for dealing with travel disruptions. In a policy, you can make it clear that employees will not be paid if they are not able to get to work and the steps that employees are required to take when faced with travel disruption. This will also reduce the risk of disputes arising between employers and employees.

Companies should speak with staff and agree on alternative arrangements. Where this isn’t possible, there is the option of enforcing annual leave – with correct notice – or asking staff to use accrued time off in lieu.

Legally, where do employees stand if they can’t make into work because of the strikes?

While most employers will acknowledge the difficulties a strike will cause employees, some may bring disciplinary action against their staff unable to make it into work. However,  such action could be deemed unreasonable as it is beyond the control of their employees and therefore not a misconduct issue.

If an employee can’t get into work because of the rail strikes, but the workplace is open and work is available, then technically they have no right to be paid for the day. A refusal to attend work in theory could lead to disciplinary action; however, if there is a genuine reason why it is difficult to travel to work, this is an unlikely outcome. It is, generally, an employee’s responsibility to get to and from work and so, if this is not possible, the employer is entitled to regard such absence as unauthorised. An exception to this might be where the employer provides transport, for example, a bus service, and this is canceled.

To find out more about how rail strikes impact employers, contact a member of our employment law team here.

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