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Unable to Attend Work Due to a Natural Disaster

By: Kevin Watson MSc - Updated: 11 Oct 2018 | comments*Discuss
Natural Disaster Work Pay Absence

Natural disasters can cause severe disruption. The disaster may be an earthquake, a storm or a volcanic ash cloud. The point is that the disruption can spread to businesses around the globe if staff are unable to attend work.

In the UK, both employers and staff are sometimes unsure of what to do in this situation. What does the law say? And what rights do workers have?

The Law

The legal position is straightforward. If staff cannot reach work because of a natural disaster, the employer has no obligation in law to pay them.

The only exception to this may lie in a Worker’s Contract Of Employment. A contract may state that the employer will continue to make salary payments if a natural disaster prevents the employee turning up for work. The issue is therefore clear-cut. But few contracts of employment have this provision.

Some workers, though, argue they should continue to receive pay despite not having a natural disaster provision in their contracts. They maintain that employers cannot withhold pay in these circumstances unless there is a specific contractual right that allows them to do so.

Employers, however, have a counter-argument. They say that a member of staff who does not attend work without prior authority is taking an unauthorised absence. And because the absence is unauthorised, an employer is free to deduct pay for the days of absence.

The employers’ argument invariably wins. In other words, employers have no legal duty to pay employees who are absent from work because of a natural disaster.

Alternative Options

Despite the legal position, many business consultants take a more lenient approach. They advise employers to consider the effect on morale of deducting pay. They also urge employers to discuss other options with staff.

A natural disaster is, after all, beyond anyone’s control. And many employees spend a great deal of money trying to get home if a natural disaster occurs when they’re abroad.

One alternative to deducting pay, therefore, is for employers to give absent staff the chance to take paid annual leave. This may not suit many workers, but at least they don’t lose money.

Yet another approach is for employers to offer staff the opportunity to make up their lost time at a later date. Staff on Flexible Working Hours can add a few additional hours to their working week. Shift workers can do extra shifts from time to time. This can benefit staff because they don’t lose pay.

Dealing with Unintended Staff Absences

Two examples serve to illustrate how employers have reacted to unintended staff absences. In both instances, the staff could not return from trips abroad because of the ash cloud from an Icelandic volcano and the subsequent disruption to flights.

The first example is a civil service agency. Management gave staff the option of receiving half pay for their days of absence. This gesture boosted staff morale.

The second example is a major retail group. Head office gave staff three choices: take the days of absence as paid holidays; work to make up the time; or take the days as unpaid leave. And whatever option staff chose, they didn’t have to face an unplanned absence interview.

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[Add a Comment]
Hi There has been a fire in my workplace, i am willing to work but my employee doesn't have a premises for the next 3 month. He refuses to pay me. Does he have to legally pay me if the fire was not his fault? Thanks
Sara - 12-Jul-17 @ 9:11 PM
Hi, I am self employed. I worked for company 2 years. The company goes to liqudation but still owe to me money for one month. What can I do to get my money? I pay my NI myself. Send them invoices monthly. Thanks
Artha - 29-Jul-16 @ 2:52 PM
anjieb68 - Your Question:
Hi,I work Monday to Friday,boxing day 2015 was a Saturday,so am I entitled to a days holiday back for this

Our Response:
It depends what your contract says and what terms your employer has specified regarding working bank holidays. I advise discussing this with your employer directly.
WorkingRights - 10-Feb-16 @ 11:13 AM
Hi,I work Monday to Friday,boxing day 2015 was a Saturday,so am I entitled to a days holiday back for this
anjieb68 - 9-Feb-16 @ 5:15 PM
This law is very useful for the employee's that if natural disaster take place then he/she should be paid for the absence, Thank you for giving us the wonderful information.
360 feedback - 1-Aug-11 @ 12:48 PM
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