Long queues have been building outside petrol stations across the UK over the past week amid fears that fuel supplies could run out – leaving many motorists unable to fill up their vehicles.
Matt McDonald, partner and expert employment solicitor at Shakespeare Martineau, explains how employers can best support their employees during the fuel crisis.
“If it’s feasible for employees to commute using alternative transport, you can ask them to do so,” he said.
“If this results in the employee incurring additional costs or having to travel for longer, technically, this isn’t an employer’s problem as it is up to staff how they commute to and from work. That said, some employers may choose to cover any extra costs incurred by employees.
“It is also worth bearing in mind that those employees who can work from home – and presumably have done to a large extent over the past 18 months – will probably expect to be allowed to do so, at least in the short-term, if the alternative is a more difficult or expensive commute.
“Employers should consider taking a pragmatic approach in this regard to ensure harmonious employee relations.”
Can employees raise a complaint if they have to find alternative modes of transport?
“They might well do so, but it is ultimately up to the employee how they get to and from work.
“As such, where an alternative mode of transport is feasible, employees who complain are unlikely to be in a strong position.
“Employers who choose to cover extra travel costs will largely be doing so to maintain goodwill rather than because of any legal obligation.
“The position is different for those employees driving for work, for example visiting customers or clients.
“For travel of this nature, the employer is much more involved and can’t simply ask an employee to use alternative forms of transport and expect them to accept any extra cost.
“At the very least, the employer would be expected to cover the costs of trains or taxis, for example, and it’s important to communicate with employees clearly on this front so they understand what is required of them.”
What should I do if I think my employee is using this as an excuse not to come into work?
“If an employee fails to attend work without good reason, this will generally be a disciplinary matter. However, it’s important not to jump to conclusions and to investigate any incident thoroughly.
“Many employees simply won’t be able to attend work other than by car and it may be viewed as harsh to expect employees in this situation to pay for taxis, particularly if there are feasible alternatives, such as working from home in the short-term.
“Hopefully, the fuel shortage will only be a temporary problem. However, there are suggestions it could become a longer-term issue, so employers would be wise to think through the impact this will have on their various different employees and to plan and communicate with staff accordingly.”
Prime Minister Boris Johnson has urged people not to panic buy and has said that the crisis is expected to ease in the coming days.
A version of this article originally appeared in the Doncaster Free Press