The floods and employment rights

This level and scale of disruption will undoubtedly have an impact on employers and businesses throughout Surrey, the Thames Valley, Somerset and other areas of the country badly hit. Helena Woodward-Vukcevic, from law firm Hart Brown, outlines the obligations an employer has to its staff.

Workplace closures
If a business has to close its place of work due to flooding or flood conditions, employees would generally be entitled to be paid. If an employer does make a deduction to their employee’s pay, they may be entitled to bring a claim for unauthorised deduction of wages and/or breach of contract to recover the sums owed. The exception to this is if the employment contract has a clause entitling an employer to lay off employees without pay or where they are employed under a zero hours contract. There are complex rules which apply to such clauses and parties should take legal advice in relation to this.

Transport disruption/ Road Closures
Employees are expected to make every reasonable effort to attend work despite any severe transport disruption or road closures, but without compromising their health and safety. Generally there is no legal right entitling an employee to be paid by their employer if they are unable to attend work because of flooding and technically it can be treated as an unauthorised absence. However, some employers may have contractual, collective or custom and practice arrangements in place relating to pay in such situations. A flexible approach is likely to be the most effective way of dealing with flooding and any resulting disruption to travel. Employers should consider the possibility of allowing affected employees to work from home or from alternative premises where available.

Employers should check to see whether they already have a policy to cover adverse weather in place. Where an employee’s usual route to work or means of transport is severely disrupted by flooding, they should explore other ways of getting into work. An employee should not however feel pressurised to risk their safety.

Homes flooded
Where an employee’s home has been flooded and they need to take time off to deal with the damage caused, they are not automatically entitled to be paid for this. It is at the employer’s discretion to continue to pay an employee as long as they make the time up at a later date. Alternatively, an employer may request that the employee takes the time off as paid annual leave. An employer cannot force an employee to take the time off as holiday without their agreement unless the employment contract contains an express right entitling the employee to do so.

Helena Woodward-Vukcevic, specialises in general commercial litigation and employment law at law firm Hart Brown,