Forth Bridge closure – what options do employers have?

Employment law and HR experts at NatWest Mentor – a subsidiary of Edinburgh-based RBS (Royal Bank of Scotland) – are urging employers to consider some practical options open to employers during the Forth Bridge closure.

Here, Nick Soret, head of Employment Law Consultancy Support, gives an outline of some of the available options

Workers increasingly live at a distance from their workplace and are reliant on efficient transport links to get to work. When one of those links is blocked, it can cause real problems.
With the closure last week of the Forth Road Bridge for urgent structural repairs – which is likely to remain the case at least until the New Year – many commuters will experience real difficulties getting to work. But employers need to know they have a reliable workforce, so what can they do to support their workers to ensure it’s business as usual?
Flexible start and finish times
With traffic diverted to the Kincardine Bridge or parallel rail services, peak commuting times are bound to be immensely busy. But as an employer, could you consider later start and finish times to ease the load?
This is easy to set up and doesn’t require any permanent change to workers’ contracts of employment. All you need to do is discuss whether this option would be helpful and if you can reach agreement, put it in writing. Make it clear that it is a temporary arrangement and set an end or review date.
Working from home
Ask yourself “Do staff really need to be on the premises?” in order to do their jobs. You may already allow some staff to work from home, but if you don’t, perhaps now is the time to consider it and give it a try. Many office-based jobs can easily be adapted to homeworking and you might find setting up homeworking is easier than you thought.  Modern communications are remarkably straightforward to set up: most people already have a broadband connection and call systems can be diverted to mobile devices which allow calls to be dealt with from home.
You could also consider agreeing to staff working from home part of the time (for example, two days a week on a rota basis), to ease commuting strains
There is no need to make any permanent variation to employees’ employment contracts to put temporary home working in place, but you should negotiate with your workers and agree what the arrangements are, likely timeframes, what is expected of them and set a review date.
Car Sharing
The roundabout route via Kincardine will add considerably not just to commuting time, but also fuel costs. Why not suggest car sharing for workers who live near each other?
You can help facilitate this through use of business noticeboards and messageboards, but you’ll need to leave it to employees to make their own car-sharing arrangements, and ensure they know that they are responsible for having the correct insurance in place.
Holidays or leave of absence
Staff who are unable to get to work could request to take holidays at this time – although they are unlikely to have sufficient entitlement to cover the entire bridge closure period. As an employer, you can of course refuse holiday requests if they don’t fit in with your business, but in this case you might make an exception.
If a worker has exhausted all of his or her holiday entitlement, then they might ask to take unpaid leave of absence if they are temporarily unable to get to work. Again, it’s up to you as the employer whether you’ll allow this, but you should certainly consider any request for temporary leave of absence seriously and in accordance with flexible working legislation.
In summary….
The Forth Bridge closure will without doubt cause problems for employers as some of their workers will find it extremely difficult or time-consuming to get into work. So it’s in both parties’ interests to reach a workable temporary solution.
Not everything you try will be successful, so remain flexible and open to alternative solutions. You can be sure your employees will be grateful to you for making the effort.
But you might find some of the arrangements are so successful that you’ll want to make them a permanent feature.
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