Toilet roll, pasta and now fuel – what next! Whilst the public are being urged not to panic-buy, the message appears to be falling on deaf ears with petrol stations unable to keep up with the demand.
With petrol stations running out of fuel many employees are struggling to fill up their vehicles to get to work; leaving employers wondering what can they do?
Front-line staff are being urged to conserve fuel and only carry out essential travel to ensure that they have sufficient fuel to attend work.
Some employers may already have a ‘travel disruption’ policy, borne out of adverse weather in the past, and as such it would be worth employers checking to see if this situation is covered by such a policy. However, in the absence of such a policy, if a member of staff is unable to attend their place of work due to the fuel crisis, an employer can ask them to work from home (where job duties permit). In a pre-Covid world an employer could have suggested staff car-share or take public transport to work – however with the Covid infection rates increasing a careful risk assessment would need to be carried out before any such measure was suggested.
An employer should bear in mind that if staff can’t work from home and can’t attend work:
- staff would not normally be entitled to pay (as they are not ‘ready willing and able to work’);
- as an alternative, an employer could allow staff to take the time off as paid holiday or unpaid leave.
There may also be knock on implications if teachers can’t attend work and classrooms or schools have to close, which could result in parents asking for time off for dependants, which all employees are entitled to claim, albeit they have no statutory right to be paid for time taken.
Employers should be mindful that if an employee is disciplined or dismissed because they are unable to attend work because they cannot drive due to lack of fuel, that is likely to be unfair. Given the extraneous circumstances we do not consider any reasonable employer would dismiss in these circumstances.
However, only employees with at least 2 years’ service can claim ordinary unfair dismissal. For those employees with less than 2 years’ service, claiming unfair dismissal would not be an option, unless they could link their inability to get to work to one of the protected characteristics (for example an employee might argue that due to a health condition, for example anxiety, they were unable to battle the lengthy queues for fuel, or that they were anxious about driving to work in circumstances where they might not be able to re-fuel if their tank ran empty).
If you don’t already have a travel disruption policy in place – now would be a good time to implement. Whilst it is hoped that this fuel crisis will be short-lived having a policy to deal with travel disruption and adverse weather conditions will enable employers to be prepared to enter the winter period.
This is only intended to be a summary and not specific legal advice. If you would like further information or advice, please do contact a member of our team.
Please do get in touch with the employment team if you would like assistance drafting a travel disruption policy or if you have any other employment law query.