This week marks the start of the biggest rail strikes in 30 years. Beginning just after midnight on Tuesday morning, they will bring rail transport services to a near halt across the UK. It is estimated that only one in five trains will run on the three scheduled strike days. With no negotiated settlement in sight, union leaders have vowed to strike all summer. In addition comes the news that doctors, nurses, civil service workers, local government staff, to name a few, are also considering the prospect of strike action.
Strikes, along with other forms of industrial action, bring employment-related issues even if an employer is not directly involved. Given the prominence of the imminent/threatened strikes, such employers should consider how these issues could affect their employees. This article will cover some of the issues for employers to consider when dealing with the impact of strikes on their employees.
What to do if employees cannot get to work?
Inevitably, given the impact on transport this week and the possible “intensification” of the strike campaign if a deal cannot be reached, many employees will face difficulties getting to work this week and potentially beyond.
Employers should take practical steps to engage with their workforce regarding the impact on their travel arrangements. Where employees rely on public transport to get to work, organisations should explore alternative arrangements with those affected. If possible, allowing such employees to work from home is likely to be the easiest option, particularly now more employees are set up for home working following the pandemic. However, this is not practicable or even possible for all employees. In those cases, employers may be able to consider allowing their workers flexibility on their start and finish times so they can work around the severely reduced public transport timetables.
More controversially, businesses could ask their staff if they would like to use their holiday entitlements or offer unpaid leave to minimise disruption. Employees generally do not have a contractual right to be paid for time that they have been unable to work because of travel disruption, but there are likely to be employee relations issues if employers do not allow their employees some flexibility in these circumstances. For example, employers should consider whether it is possible to allow employees to make up any time that they have not been able to work to ensure that they are not out of pocket.
What to do if an employee is late for work due to the strikes?
As above, there will be an inevitable, and significant, impact on travel arrangements this week, and potentially for some time coming, so employers should consider how to deal with employees who are late to work as a result of the strikes. Employers have a number of options and the response is dependent on how the business wants to treat its workforce. Unless there is a contractual right to be paid for time missed due to lateness, an employer may not have to pay an employee for the period they are late. However, employers should consider whether the employee may have done their best to get to work at all and disregard the lateness, or they could agree with late employees to work back the time to ensure that employees complete their contractual hours and do not miss out on pay.
Given the disruption caused by the rail strikes and the threat of a summer of strikes, employers should proactively consider the employment-related issues arising from industrial action. Employers’ response to the strikes depends on a number of circumstances such as the ability of their employees to work from home and the nature of their business. However, some level of flexibility will be needed from both employers and employees over the next few weeks if the strikes continue.