How can employers deal with workplace disruption during the Southern Rail strike?

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Beleaguered Southern Rail Users Face More Misery As Five Day Strike Begins
Thousands of commuters faced travel delays due to industrial action this morning (Source: Getty)

The five-day strike by Southern Rail workers which started today could lead to significant workplace disruption for some employers.

Thousands of employees working in the City and elsewhere may be unable to get to work and forecasts of a heat wave due to start later this week could lead to a spike in unauthorised absenteeism. So what can employers do during the strike to minimise workplace disruption?

In order to deal with the possibility of a rise in absenteeism, employers should develop a strategy to cope with the disruption caused by rail strikes, bad weather and other major incidents. If employers are willing to pay staff unable to attend the office during the strike, they need to make sure the business can run as normal.

Employers could also offer alternative working arrangements such as working from home or from another office, or allowing them to take last minute holiday. All policies with regards to pay and working arrangements should be clearly communicated to all employees so they are aware of what they can do in the event of a major disruption.

Read more: It's high time Southern Rail got its act together

If the employer wants to dock an employee’s pay for failing to turn up for work during the strike, they must make sure there is a clause in their employment contract stating that this is permissible. If they go ahead without this permission, they could be at risk of an ‘unlawful deduction from wages’ claim.

Employers may prefer to approach pay and working arrangements on a case-by-case basis and make sure everyone is treated fairly and consistently. There needs to be a balance between understanding why some employees may not be able to attend their place of work and ensuring business continuity.

If a strike happens to coincide with a spell of warm weather, it is possible that some employees might take the opportunity of being out of sight of their employer to avoid work and enjoy some summer sunshine. They need to be made aware that such behaviour would have repercussions and could lead to disciplinary proceedings. Before bringing disciplinary action, however, it is usually necessary for the employer to provide evidence and refer to any policies dealing with workplace disruption.

If companies take the right steps, they can avoid a lot of the headaches that usually come hand-in-hand with a rail strike.