Partner and expert employment solicitor at Shakespeare Martineau, Matt McDonald, has explained how employers can best support their employees during the ‘fuel crisis’.
He said: “If it’s feasible for employees to commute using alternative transport, you can ask them to do so.
“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 I raise a complaint to my employer if I have to find alternative modes of transport to get to work?
Unfortunately, Mr McDonald says that although it may be tempting for many employees to raise the transport issue with their bosses, the burden of travelling to and from work is ultimately the responsibility of the worker.
As such, he says those who file a complaint when a feasible alternative mode of transport is available are “unlikely to be in a strong position”.
He added: “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 the fuel shortage as an excuse not to come into work?
Mr McDonald says anyone who fails to attend work without good reason would generally face disciplinary action, but has warned employers it is important “not to jump to conclusions” under the current circumstances 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,” he said.
“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 says the crisis should ease in the coming days.