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Bridge over troubled waters?

As news that Forth Road Bridge will remain closed until after New Year Kelly Craig explores the implications for employees, and employers.

I wrote earlier this year about the potential that the Queensferry Crossing might bring to the Fife economy. Today’s news about the closure of the Forth Road Bridge until at least New Year is the flip side of the lack of investment in Scotland’s infrastructure, until the Forth Replacement Crossing is completed.

What does the closure mean for local businesses? In the short term this is going to be a real thorn in the side for local retailers who, statistics would have us believe, are already struggling in the face of increased internet shopping.

The more obvious problem faces commuters. How should employers handle this latest chapter in the saga that is the non-attendance nightmare caused by the British winters?

Winter Attendance

Employers are reminded on an annual basis to dust off employee handbooks or inclement weather policies to remind employees of their duties in the event of snow or other poor weather making it more difficult for them to get to work. The bridge closure will present similar issues for the employer, so it is best to be prepared.

  1. Publicise your policy now, in advance of commuting over the weekend or next week (whichever is relevant to your business.)
  2. Make employees aware they are still obliged to attend work regardless of congestion, lengthy detours or otherwise.
  3. Set out the consequences for employees for lateness or non-attendance; such as verbal or written warnings.

Managing road closure related absence 

If an employee still does not attend work because of the traffic congestion the employer is entitled to treat that as an unauthorised absence and withhold the employee’s pay for the relevant day(s). If you have publicised the policy beforehand then all employees have due notice of the risks of non-attendance. Unlike inclement weather, this is not about risking their safety (and inviting claims on the employer). The employees would be expected to leave the house earlier in the morning to get to work, not battle through snow storms!

You might also find that there are some employees who are found to exaggerate how bad the traffic levels are that day. “It was 10 or 20 miles back from the Kincardine Bridge both ways”, while other employees will tell you they “sailed right through”. If you can show that the employee has lied in order to arrive late, or not to attend work at all, then you should follow your disciplinary procedures in relation to non-attendance and misconduct. A full investigation should be conducted before reaching a decision on any sanction.

The best option when the majority of staff are affected is to encourage home or remote working to the greatest extent possible. If that is not practicable then you could consider advising employees that any time missed in the morning can be made up at a later date. Also consider what core staff are required for time sensitive contracts and whether it is possible that attendance is restricted to those few.

Managing business closure

However, the boot may be on the other foot and the business requires to close temporarily at short notice. For example, the business may not be able to complete work because supplies have not been delivered. Without their written consent, the employer is still obliged to pay the employees. Consider if your employment contracts contain such clauses which would permit you to do so. If so, you should seek specialist advice before attempting to implement such a clause as this is likely to initiate complaints and potentially tribunal claims.

Whatever you do, ensure that you take proper advice if you are at all unsure. Do not allow the waters between staff and management to boil up. This will only lead to long term resentment, higher staff turnover and probably affect your relationships with customers when their work is not carried out as expected or on time.

If you would like to speak with anyone about the employment issues raised by the bridge closure please contact me or Julie Sullivan on 01383 721621.

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