Employment and Natural Disasters

What happens if I cannot get to work due to a natural disaster?

Employees not turning up for work

There often occurs many reasons why employees are not present for work, for example they may be ill (an employee will have statutory rights to sick pay in this situation), they may be on holiday (again they will have statutory rights in relation to this) or they may just not turn up.

If an employee simply does not turn up without notice then they will have no rights and if this behaviour persists then they may face disciplinary action and in some cases dismissal.  During recent events in 2010 with a natural disaster disrupting the aviation industry this has left many employees stranded and therefore unable to turn up for work. This brings in the situation where employees do not turn up but have a valid reason for not turning up.

Does the employer have to pay their employees in this situation?

The general employment law position is that employers have a duty to pay an employee who is willing to work and in fact turns up for work. There is no duty imposed on employers to pay their staff that does not turn up for work.

Therefore in the situation of a natural disaster preventing employees from turning up to work there would be no obligation on the employer to pay them. Currently there is no case law to deal with the situation but legal experts feel that this duty should not be imposed on employers.

Will all employers refuse to pay their staff in this situation?

If this situation occurs it will be the decision of the individual employer as to whether they will pay their staff. Legally they may not have a duty to pay their staff in this situation but they may feel that in order to keep company morale at an acceptable level it would be a necessary cost for that employer to bare.

Would an employment contract make provision for this situation occurring?

Often many commercial contracts will contain a force majeure clause which details what will happen if a natural disaster (a so called act of God) occurs. In most cases of commercial services contracts it will cause the termination of the contract or at least the postponement of the contract. However, this would be an untenable position for an employment contract. If a force majeure clause was to appear in an employment contract it may detail whether an employee will be paid or not in a force majeure situation depending on how it will affect their work – for example causing them to be unable to attend work, or whether the job cannot go on in the situation.

However, clauses like this will be extremely rare in employment contracts, although for certain industries such as the aviation industry considering recent events may adopt similar clauses.

What happens if an employee can come to work but they cannot perform their job?

In certain situations the employees of a particular business are still able to turn up for work during a natural disaster but due to the nature of the disaster they are unable to carry out their duties. This has been the case for various employees of the aviation industry who have not been able to work due to the closer of flight paths.

In this situation employers have been asking employees to take additional leave. This leave would have to be paid and if it is not provided for in their employment contract the employer would have to adhere to specific notice requirements in order to stay within the parameters of the law.

Can an employer dock my wages if I am unable to turn up for work due to natural disaster?

There may be no legal obligation to pay staff that is unable to work but it is another matter to dock employee’s wages if they are unable to work.

During recent events it has emerged that certain councils throughout the UK were planning to dock the wages of teaching staff who were unable to turn up for work due to being stranded abroad. The thoughts were that they could recover these loses from their holiday insurance.

However, the various teachers unions have highlighted the position that if employers actually put this into action they would be vulnerable to a legal challenge on the grounds of unlawful deduction of salary.

What should employers do following the recent natural disaster?

The recent problems for the aviation industry causing huge amounts of people to be stranded have thrown various employment issues into light which may have not been touched on before. Following these events it has clearly highlighted the need for employers to put in place adequate policies to fully deal with this situation if it occurs again.