Riots: employment issues arising from disruption

Many parts of London and other areas of the UK have been affected by rioting and looting this week. XpertHR provides guidance for employers on dealing with disruption to the workplace caused by disturbances to public transport, damage to business premises, and employee involvement in the rioting. 

Disruption to public transport: The riots have caused disruption to public transport and road closures. If employees have been unable to get to work due to transport problems, or arrive late, employers may be considering whether or not they can deduct employees' pay or instigate their disciplinary procedure. 

Before doing so, it is good practice for an employer to investigate the reason behind the employee's absence or late arrival. If the reason is genuinely because of transport difficulties, the employer could consider allowing the employee to make up the time at a later date, work from home, or use his or her annual leave. 

Damage to business premises: Fire and theft during the rioting have caused damage to business premises and goods. If, as a result, a business cannot operate as normal, it may be permissible to ask employees to carry out duties that they do not usually perform, for example cleaning. Whether or not the employer can do this will depend on the employment contract. 

However, it is not permissible to impose unreasonable requirements on employees, as they may be entitled to resign and claim constructive dismissal. If there are risks to employees' health and safety, the employer should undertake a risk assessment and put appropriate measures in place to protect their health and safety, for example shutting the workplace early. If there is a genuine fear for health and safety, employees may be entitled to refuse to work. 

If the workplace is shut, the employer may need to send employees home, but they may still need to be paid, or the employer could ask them if they would consider taking annual leave. 

Disruption to childcare: If an employee's children cannot attend nursery or summer activities due to disruption caused by the rioting, the employer should bear in mind that the employee is entitled to a reasonable amount of time off to arrange care for his or her children. An employee may ask to take annual leave instead, and the employer should consider allowing the request even if the employee does not meet the notice requirements. If the employer refuses the request but the employee still takes annual leave, the employer should look at all the circumstances before taking formal disciplinary action. 

  • Time off for dependants quick reference Under s.57A of the Employment Rights Act 1996, employees are entitled to take a reasonable amount of unpaid time off for dependants. This quick reference sets out the circumstances in which the right applies. 
  • Time off for dependants policy This model policy sets out employees' right to time off for dependants. 

Employee misconduct: If an employee has been involved in the riots, or is being investigated for his or her involvement in the riots, the employer may be able to discipline the employee, depending on the connection of his or her conduct to the employee's work. 


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