Commuters on Southern Rail were facing another round of strike action by the rail union RMT in their long-running dispute over the role of conductors.

It comes as the RMT said there would be six days over strikes in the run-up to Christmas and over the New Year.

Kate Palmer, assistant head of advisory on employment law at Peninsula Group on how can employers deal with the Southern Rail strike and what employees can expect.

1. What if my employee cannot get to work?

Speak to the employee and see if any alternative arrangements can be made.

For example:

  • Working from home (this may only be viable if the employee is set up to work from home ie working from home will not significantly adversely affect productivity.
  • Agree a period of annual leave.
  • Enforce annual leave. Notice must be given of this; employer must give notice that is twice the length of the annual leave to be enforced ie two days’ notice of one day of leave. So technically, notice of Tuesday and Wednesday is needed to enforce annual leave on Thursday; Wednesday and Thursday is needed to enforce annual leave on Friday.
  • Permit the employee to use any time off in lieu they have banked.

The employee will be paid as normal if any of the above are used. Alternatively, arrange a temporary period of flexible working of earlier or later starts according to what may be more practical because of the trains.

This may mean a week of unpleasant disruption for the employee. That is the effect intended by a strike but employers are within their rights to expect that contractual obligations are still met if the employee wants to be paid as normal. Employers may be seen as the “bad guy” if they cannot be flexible but the strike is not their fault.

2. Do I need to pay the employee if they are late?

Unless employees have a contractual right to be paid when they are late, employees are not entitled to be paid for time they have missed because they are late. Employers could arrange with the employee for the time to be made up elsewhere to maintain full pay.

3. What about my employees who are parents of children whose school is shut?

Employees have a right to take time off for dependants when the normal care arrangements for their children break down, while they try to make other arrangements.

Therefore, time off for dependants should normally last no more than two days per instance and employers should agree with the employee how the rest of the time, should they need it, is to be categorised.