Flooding and Employers Responsibilities
20th February 2014
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What implications for business and employees does the flooding herald, and how should employers deal with the floods and what are the ramifications?

1.  Change of Location

Suppose that a business is flooded.  It cannot operate or at best can only operate on half output. 

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.

2.  Can employees be laid off?

If the business has to close but employees remain able and willing to work, employers will generally be obliged to pay them.  Some employment contracts may state otherwise but this would be unusual.

Employers can ask employees to go down to a reduced working week, but again it will often be a matter for the employee to agree, unless the contract specifically contemplates this eventuality.  Employers could 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.

3.  Can employees be made redundant?

Possibly but any redundancy may well require a redundancy payment on the part of the employer, and an employee may challenge the redundancy if within a short time the employer, having got back on his feet, re engages an employee to do the same or similar job.

4.  Safety at work

Legislation requires that employers provide a safe working environment.  If flooding has affected the safety of the building or contaminated it then an employer must rectify the problem.  Aside from any civil claim a whistleblowing claim could arise if an employee feels that the employers’ reluctance to rectify problems has led to a breach of health and safety.  Moreover, flooded premises may give rise to potential insurance and liability issues.

5.  Can an employer require employees to attend work?

Flooding and storms may not just affect the company’s own premises, but may also prevent or hamper staff from attending work.  Employers must act reasonably if requiring staff to travel for their work through difficult or dangerous conditions.  Caution should be exercised before forcing employees on to the roads if there are warnings and alerts in place, and certainly no employee should be forced to drive through hazardous areas. 

Unless the contract states otherwise employers are under no obligation to pay employees who aren’t available for work, even when this is beyond an employee’s control. 

6.  What to do in the long term.

Over the long term, an employee’s inability to come to work may have to be treated in the same way as other long term absence cases.

To date I am not aware of any Tribunal claim in which an employee has lost his job as a result of the floods.  It is too early yet but there may be some in the pipeline.

7.  What to do

If flooding is going to become more prevalent then all employers should be looking at their employee’s contracts of employment to ensure

1.  That employees are not paid whilst not working,

2.  That staff who might be needed to cover those who are absent can be reassigned.

3.  That employees have mobility clauses to ensure they can be required to work elsewhere.

4.  That if flooding occurs then employees agree to reduce to a short working week.

About the Author

Dave B

Member since: 10th July 2012

Hi, I am Dave, I run thebestof Exeter along with my colleagues. If you want to promote your business or event, get in touch with us on 01392 349 130.

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