Unexpected Absence

Author: Nicola O'Dwyer

It is likely that there will be occasions when an employee fails to attend the workplace owing to circumstances beyond his/her control. This type of non attendance may be caused by the following:

  • Extreme adverse weather conditions, such as, strong winds, flooding, heavy snow and ice causing road closures, unsafe road conditions and public transport delays or cancellations;
  • Strikes due to Industrial action causing cancellations and delays to public transport (trains, buses and tubes) with the knock-on impact of increasing the amount of traffic on public roads;
  • Flight cancellations or delays. These may be caused by the weather, strikes or terrorism which may cause significant delays for days or sometimes weeks.

What can you do if your employee fails to attend the workplace?

If an employee is unable to attend the workplace due to one of the reasons above you are not required to pay them. However, to maintain good working relationships you may wish to provide at least one of the following options for an employee:

  • Paid time off up to a certain number of days;
  • The opportunity to take the time off as annual leave. There may be difficulties with forcing the employee to take the time off as annual leave as legislation requires you to follow certain procedures within a set timeframe. Also, the employee may not have sufficient annual leave and it may have to be taken from the following year’s allowance. If you wish to force the employee to take time off due to these circumstances you need to include it specifically within your contract of employment;
  • Provide the employee with the opportunity to make up the hours over the following days or weeks (depending on the amount of time taken).
  • Allow the employee to work from home for the days that he/she is unable to attend the workplace.

Where an employee’s flight is delayed or cancelled whilst on a business trip, you should continue to pay the employee’s salary. Also, any expenses that are incurred due to the delay or cancellation will have to be reimbursed by you, although it may be recoverable from the travel insurance policy.

You should be aware that employees with dependents have a statutory right to a reasonable amount of time off due to the unexpected disruption or termination of a dependent’s care. This includes the closure of a school owing to bad weather, or a childminder being unable to look after the child. In these circumstances you are unable to force the employee to take annual leave for this period or subject the employee to any detriment. The time off can be unpaid and is limited.

What are the employees rights if you close the workplace?

If it is your decision to close the workplace owing to bad weather, then your staff are still entitled to be paid as they are willing and ready to attend the workplace.

Reduction of risk to the business

There are ways in which you can help protect your organisation:

  • Develop a business continuity plan so that you have a plan for worst-case scenarios which should also allow for minor disruptions;
  • Include the right to make deductions to the employee’s wage within the employment contract;
  • Implement a policy that sets out how you will deal with any time off for adverse weather or major travel delays; and
  • Ensure that you take a consistent approach with all employees .

If any of the issues raised in this article affect you, please contact the author, Nicola O’Dwyer on 01483 411516.