As has been widely reported, last week saw the biggest rail strikes in over 30 years. Whilst major long-distance national routes were generally unaffected, many shorter inter-city and rural routes saw a huge reduction in train frequency. Discussions to end the strike did not appear constructive with parties walking out mid-negotiation and each side offering different versions of why the negotiations broke down. Union leaders have subsequently threatened that strike action could last throughout the summer months. There are also reports that there will be additional strikes involving government run industries such as the NHS, Civil Service and Local Governments.
Industrial action has a multitude of employment-related issues, not just on those directly involved (i.e., people who work for the rail companies). It would be useful therefore for employers to consider what impact the strikes could have on their own employees.
What if employees cannot attend the office?
It is somewhat inevitable that, given the reduced train timetable and the possibility that the strikes continue, many employees will unfortunately face difficulties getting to work.
Employers should take a pro-active approach to engage with their employees to see what potential impact the strikes could have on their ability to get to work. Not everyone will be impacted, but where employees rely on public transport to get to work, employers may wish to explore alternative arrangements to avoid any issues. One obvious solution is allowing employees to work from home (especially given the prevalence of working from home since the pandemic). However, not all employees can physically work from home. Some employees may not be set up to work from home or do a type of job where they are required to be in the office. In such cases, an employer may wish to allow employees to work flexibly for a limited period, starting late and finishing late, in line with the inevitably reduced (and possibly overburdened alternative public transport such as buses) timetable.
What if an employee is late for work due to the strikes?
For those who can get into the office using public transport, it is extremely likely that they may not be able to get to work on time. There are a number of reasons for this, alternative transport methods such as buses may be overburdened leading to busses being full or late. People may not be familiar with the other methods of transport available to them. An employer may take the view that employees should set off earlier to allow for the possible delays, however this may not be possible if, for example, employees have childcare needs.
Employers will need to be careful on how they manage lateness. Ordinarily, lateness is a potential disciplinary office. Whilst one or two incidents of lateness may not lead to a formal disciplinary process, it may lead to a quiet informal word from a line manager raising concerns. Certain employment contracts give employers discretion on whether or not to pay employees for time missed. However, employers should think hard before taking such action again employees impacted by the strike. These are issues outside of an employees’ control and therefore an employer may wish to take a more lenient approach, allowing an employee to make the time back later, or, disregarding any lateness as a result of the strike so employees do not suffer any financial hardship or, feel aggrieved at being warned over something that is not their fault.
Given the disruption caused last week, and the way the negotiations are going meaning there is a real possibility of further strikes, employers should be proactive in how they look to manage the indirect impacts of the strikes. Obviously, the business needs will come first, however a degree of flexibility in handling lateness for example, will go a long way to ensuring employees are less stressed about the potential consequences for them.
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