Sorry, Southern rail commuters, your boss can still ask you to keep coming into the office

Hayley Kirton
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In what circumstances can you boss ask you to put up with this? (Source: Getty)

Commuters who rely on Southern rail to get to and from the office will understand the pain of trying to keep calm and carry on during strike action.

The rail services are being affected by a conductors' strike, orchestrated by the Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union, today, tomorrow and from 31 December to 2 January. RMT and Aslef will then host a drivers' strike between 9 and 14 January.

But how much sympathy can employees expect from their bosses as they try to navigate the rails? And when can they put their foot down and tell them that's not on? City A.M. asked the questions so you didn't have to:

My boss handed me a train map and told me to find another way in. Can she do that?

It will probably depend on the precise details of your employment, but, very generally speaking, they can. Kevin James, employment partner at Payne Hicks Beach, told City A.M. employers can ask their staff to get into work on strike days "unless there is a specific provision within the contract of employment – which is highly unlikely – to deal with these particular circumstances".

However, Adrian Hoggarth, partner at Jurit, believes most employers will be more likely to try and reach a deal with strike hampered employees, such as offering remote working, or asking for the hours to be made up at a later date.

"With these ongoing strike problems, employers are well-advised to make sure that they are planning well ahead of time so that the employees know their responsibilities and agreements are decided on," Hoggarth remarked.

I told my boss there's no way I can make it in. He said it was fine – but he'd be taking a day's holiday from me in return. Surely that's not ok?

Hoggarth noted there could be issues with forcing annual leave on workers if fair notice isn't given, adding: "Strike disruptions do not usually allow for much planning as they are decided late in the day."

James reminds staff who have been asked to fork over annual leave in return for a day not waiting around London Bridge station that it's a two-way street.

"Of course, if that is a day's leave then the employee is not obliged to do any work," James said.

Speaking of working from home, I asked my boss if I could and he said no. What gives?

Unfortunately, James points out that bosses are not obliged to let employees work from home if it's not suitable for the work they are carrying out. However, he also notes they could be shooting themselves in foot, as they'd also risk losing that employee for the day if they opt to take holiday rather than deal with train hassle.

"The employer may be better served to agree the request to work from home providing that can in fact be achieved, for example, through remote log in and so on," James said.

Hoggarth added: "One will have to refer to their contract, but in most cases informal agreements will be made between the employer and employee to find what works best for both parties."

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