Dealing with unexpected disruptions

Jan 31, 2023

However well prepared we might be, there will still be events that cause disruption to our working lives. Both the weather and industrial action can have an affect on our ability to travel and on our work-life responsibilities.*

Since the pandemic there are more people working from home, however we are seeing a gradual return to the workplace, and there are still many job roles that can only be done on site.

Even home working isn’t immune from disruption – it may avoid travel issues, but being heavily reliant on technology means it is vulnerable to power cuts or networks being unavailable.

Employees may also be affected if they need to undertake additional caring responsibilities, for example if schools close or if they need to provide support to elderly relatives.

Planning ahead with how we might deal with these situations avoids having to make snap decisions when a situation occurs. It is also important to set clear expectations so that employees understand the provisions in place and can make their own plans in light of this. Having a written policy reassures employees that they will be dealt with fairly and consistently.

The basic principle is that if an employee cannot work and this is not covered by either annual leave, sickness absence or some other statutory or company provisions, then this would count as unpaid leave. If the issue is caused by the employee’s caring responsibilities, this would be covered by their statutory entitlement to time off to deal with emergencies for dependents, however as this is usually unpaid, similar issues apply.

This means many organisations prefer to take a more flexible approach to minimise the impact on the business and on individual employees.

There are various options to be considered to help with this issue, such as:

employees working from home, whether or not they would usually do so

for multi-site organisations, operating from one of the other locations, if that is easier to reach

working a shorter day to ease travel or share caring responsibilities

splitting their time and working out of office hours, e.g. in the evening or early morning

Whether this is possible will obviously depend on the nature of the business but it is worth trying to think as flexible as possible – for example,

if the individual needs to be on site/in person to do their job, is there anything else they could do from home?

Can appointments be shifted around to allow for meeting virtually?

Do you have mandatory training that needs to be undertaken each year? – if this is available on line this can provide a good opportunity to offer dedicated time to this.

Where it is simply not possible for an employee to undertake any work or fulfil their usual hours, consider options to cover this time e.g.

using TOIL (Time Off in Leiu) already accumulated

agreeing to work the time back at a later date and/or gradually over the next few days

allowing employees to take annual leave at short notice,

If you can’t provide the employee with work because you have to close the workplace, or lack of deliveries etc means there is no work to do, then unless you have provision for unpaid lay offs in your contract, your employees would still be entitled to be paid as usual.

As ever, the main thing is to ensure that you take a consistent approach, so that there can be no suggestion of discrimination or favouritism in your approach to different employees. With that in mind, it is helpful to think through:

what additional effort might you reasonably expect people to make before agreeing that they can’t come in. For example, how much longer a journey is acceptable? Do you follow the met office warnings on essential travel?

now hybrid working is more common, beware of differences between those who can work from home (and so can more easily continue to do so) and those who have to be on-site. If the on-site team end up frequently losing pay, this could lead to feelings of unequal treatment.

There is no “one size fits all” for dealing with unexpected events such as this, but having a policy in place makes expectations clear for all involved.

*Note: if it is your employees that are taking industrial action then clearly there are different issues to consider. Please see If your business faces industrial action: Overview – GOV.UK or get in touch.