London is braced for the worst tube disruption in a decade next month if Tube workers and their unions decide to go ahead with planned strike action. For some employers in the City and elsewhere, this could lead to more workplace disputes if employees abuse permission given to work from home.
The always-on culture of many businesses means nine-to-five attendance is no longer the norm in many workplaces, but such arrangements can make it more difficult for employers to keep track of what individual workers are doing. The prospect of strikes affecting the London Underground could mean that some businesses, particularly those with a high volume of commuters, could be allowing a large chunk of the workforce to work from home, in some cases for the first time.
If employers believe that the Tube strike could cause significant disruption to their day-to-day operations, they should be planning ahead to minimise this. If the business does not currently have a policy on home working it should consider introducing one; clearly setting out what is expected of employees in such circumstances. The policy also needs to be communicated to the workforce in good time, to ensure all workers are familiar with it.
In the case of significant travel disruption, which could prevent employees from getting to work, it is important that employees understand if they are required to be on hand to respond to calls or other business communications during the working day and arrangements should be made to facilitate home working.
Of course, 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; it would be treated as an ‘unauthorised absence’ and could invoke disciplinary proceedings.
Workers should also bear in mind that if they are absent from work at any time the onus is on them to communicate the reason for this to their employer and to keep them informed.
If an employer discovers that a worker has taken a day off without permission and when they were otherwise expected to be working, there are a number of steps they can take.
Firstly, the employee could be required to make up the time elsewhere, which would avoid the need to interrupt their pay. Alternatively, an agreement could be struck allowing the worker to account for the lost time by forgoing a day of their allocated annual leave or the lost time could simply be treated as unpaid leave.
But these ‘forced’ changes may also provide an opportunity for employers to trial alternative working patterns that they may not have ordinarily considered.
Implementing flexible working hours or remote working during the proposed period of strike action could preserve business continuity while employee transportation is disrupted. However, employers must ensure that this flexibility is offered to all employees to maintain consistency and avoid potential discrimination claims.
Allowing large numbers of workers to work from home simultaneously may not be ideal for many businesses but with the appropriate planning, employers can prevent such disputes from arising by making sure they have a detailed policy in place and communicating it clearly.