How should employers respond when staff cannot get into work because of the rail strike?

By Anita Jaynes on 21 June, 2022

With significant rail strikes scheduled to take place from Tuesday 21st June 2022, employers and employees alike will struggle with the disruption caused. One of the many questions businesses will ask is what can they do when their staff cannot make it to work due to the rail strike? 

For most office-based environments, businesses may be able to avoid the disruption by using their hybrid flexible working models and allowing employees to work from home. But how will this affect industries that require their employees on-site, such as retail, hospitality construction and manufacturing?

Lauren Harkin, a Partner in the Employment Law Team at RWK Goodman in Swindon offers the following advice. 

“The legal position is that employers do not have to pay employees that are unable to come to work due to rail strikes. This means that days where employees are unable to work will need to be taken as unpaid leave or booked as prearranged paid holiday. Whilst employers are prohibited from hiring agency staff to cover the duties of their striking staff, employers of staff who are simply unable to get to work due to strike action do not have the same restrictions. Employers can therefore seek temporary cover by agency staff not reliant on rail transport.

“I would always advise employers to try and accommodate all reasonable requests by employees who are making their best efforts to come to work. Don’t unreasonably discipline employees that are genuinely unable to make it to work or who are late. This might include accommodating variations to normal working hours, for example coming in late or leaving early, or even considering whether to fund overnight accommodation. This is no legal requirements about what businesses must do, but thinking outside the box will be a key consideration for critical staff in certain industries. 

“Additionally, make sure your business has 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.   

“We said the same throughout the covid pandemic, but when advising our business clients, I always encourage them to be kind where they can. Be lenient in terms of how you deal with absences or lateness connected to the rail strikes – can you encourage car shares, or look at alternative working arrangements?”

Pictured above: Lauren Harkin, Partner in the Swindon office at RWK Goodman.