The storms that have battered the UK today (October 28) have caused widespread disruption, with a huge number of workers unable to get to work because of train suspension and chaotic driving conditions. However, many employers have no idea where they stand legally if employees cannot make it into work.
The first thing to do, even if it is locking the stable door after the horse has bolted, is to have a written procedure for such eventualities, particularly since ‘unusual’ weather seems to be becoming more common. That way, everyone knows what is expected of them.
Many employers also already offer flexible working to employees, which could include giving them laptops and mobile phones so that they can work at home or allowing them to add hours onto other days to make them up to the total required.
However, that is not appropriate or even possible for some workers. Technically, employers can treat unauthorised absence as a disciplinary matter but in reality, anyone who cannot get to work because of a lack of trains, for example, should not be penalised without it causing bad feeling.
If an employee cannot get into work by train but could potentially drive, the employer must consider whether the severe weather constitutes a risk to the health and safety of the worker.
Generally speaking, employers should not encourage their employees to travel in dangerous weather, either during working hours or when travelling to and from work, as even though an employer would not normally be liable for the acts of its employees when travelling to and from work, the courts have shown an increasing willingness to hold an employer liable for the acts of its employees where they are closely connected with what the employer authorised or expected of the employee in the performance of his or her employment.
If an employer is adamant that the absence should not cost them money, they can make the employee take the time off as unpaid holiday, unless there is anything in the contract that says otherwise, although working relationships may suffer if this happens.
Mackrell Turner Garrett Solicitors in London
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