How to deal with unplanned employee absences

Written by
Changeboard Team

03 May 2015

03 May 2015 • by Changeboard Team

What might stop employees coming to work?

Given the unusual and trying financial times and the snow, businesses will be looking to optimise the efficiency of their workforce. This means making sure that their employees are able to get to the office and work effectively. However, situations do occur which may prevent employees getting into the office, these include:

  • severe weather
  • terrorist attacks
  • the threat of flu pandemics
  • travel disruption due to strikes or a natural event (such as the volcanic ash cloud)

All of these scenarios have caused problems for employers in recent years.

What steps can HR take to prepare?

1. Employment contract: It's usual for matters such as unplanned absence to be provided for in the employee’s employment contract. This can include provisions for whether the employee is required to take a day of unpaid leave or even cooperate in the redistribution of work of a colleague who has been unable to make it to the office.

2. Company policy: It's essential for a business to have a clear policy in place to deal with potential unplanned employee absences. The policy should be clear and made known to employees. Not only will it mean that both the employer and the employee will know where they stand should anything happen but it will provide some protection for the employer should a disgruntled employee decide to take any legal action.

3. Seek professional legal advice when drafting employment contracts and considering what policies would best reflect their business needs and protect their business against potential employment tribunal claims.

Options if an employee does not show up for work

1. Require the employee to take a day‘s leave, to be deducted from their statutory leave – this will be subject to a minimum notice period so might not be practicable if the disruption is unexpected. An employer needs to give twice the period of time they require the employee to take off as notice. For example, two days notice to take one day leave.

2. Require the employee to take a day’s leave, to be deducted from their contractual leave – if the employee has been given leave in excess of the statutory minimum then an employer can only require them to take this leave if their employment contract allows and subject to any contractual conditions.

3. Require the employee to take unpaid leave – if an employee fails to turn up for work, the employer is entitled to dock their pay accordingly. There may be terms in the employment contract that vary this right and any employer should think carefully about alternatives before taking this course of action. If given a choice, the employee may choose to take a day’s unpaid leave rather than give up a day’s contractual leave.

4. Disciplinary action – not showing up for work is a disciplinary offence, however, if the employee could not get to work because of events outside of their control, then it might be considered unfair to take disciplinary action. If, however, the employee makes no effort to get to work, and fails to update the employer of their situation, then the employer could consider taking disciplinary steps, particularly if the disruption continues over some time. Taking disciplinary action should be considered as a last resort and, as mentioned above, a comprehensive policy should provide the employer with protection should it decide to proceed with this course of action.

Flexible working

There could be ways around the problem without resorting to docking pay or demanding employees use their leave. An employer will want their workforce to work as efficiently as possible whilst also maintaining morale and good employer/employee relations. It may be in the interests of the business to be flexible, for example, by:

a. asking employees to work from an alternative location. This may be from an alternative branch or from the employee’s home or abroad. This will depend on how much of an employee’s job requires them to be sitting at their desk in the office, however, modern technology will facilitate working remotely.

b. using local flexible office space if employees can get to the office, but there is a problem at the office which means they cannot work.

c. allowing employees to make up the hours they will miss at other times.

d. allowing employees to use next year’s contractual leave to cover the days they are unable to work for the current year.

Legal guidance

If you feel that your business could be better prepared for dealing with unexpected employee absences, or you would like to discuss any of the issues raised in this article, please contact: James Russell at Spring Law on