How should employers deal with the floods?
Companies may be affected by flooding in a number of ways. Most directly, their premises might be flooded, or unable to be used because of health and safety issues such as a lack of power or water supply. This may lead to a temporary business closure or the use of alternative office locations or employees working from home. Whether employers will be entitled to ask their employees to work elsewhere will depend upon the terms of their contracts, as well as their ability to travel to any new location. There are potential insurance and liability issues which also might be raised when any such proposal is examined.
If total closure of the business is required but employees remain able and willing to work, employers will generally be obliged to pay them – unless the employment contracts specifically state otherwise. Employers can ask employees to take annual leave, but minimum notice requirements apply before such a request can be enforced. Unless these have been changed contractually or employees are prepared to agree anyway, employers may not immediately be able to impose holidays.
Flooding and storms may not just affect the company's own premises, but may also call into question the reasonableness of requiring staff to travel for their work. Caution should be exercised before forcing employees on to the roads if there are warnings and alerts in place.
What about the position of employees who may not be able to travel into work? Unless they have agreed otherwise, companies are generally under no obligation to pay employees who aren't available for work, even when this is because their house is under water. However, as always, employers have a discretion to continue pay, and when employees are truly in dire straits this might be the time to exercise it favourably.
Over the longer term, an employee's inability to come to work may have to be treated in the same way as other long term absence cases. While employees should not generally be at risk of losing their jobs because of events outside their control, ultimately there will be a real question as to how long businesses can sustain their absence. Employers should also be looking at the terms of contracts of employment to ensure that staff who might be needed to cover those who are absent can be reassigned.
If you haven't done so already, now would be a good time to consider your overall business continuity plans, and in particular, whether you are in a position to deal appropriately with the employment issues which may arise.
Please contact any member of the employment and pensions team if you would like advice on these issues.