In the wake of Storm Eunice and Storm Franklin causing major disruption, power cuts and travel restrictions across the UK, what can employers do when faced with staff working remotely but experiencing power cuts during the working day?

Since the onset of the pandemic, more employees than ever have had to work from home. As restrictions ease, many employers have agreed that employees can continue to either work from home permanently or opt for a hybrid arrangement whereby they work from home on a set number of days per week. Such arrangements should be dependent on the employee having appropriate work infrastructure in place in the home, including but not limited to power, telephone and internet.

Sometimes external forces can prevent an employee from working at all. This was illustrated recently during the storms which hit the UK whereby a large number of homes across the country suffered power cuts and prevented some employees temporarily from being able to work at all.

So whose problem is this?

As a general principle, if a reasonable alternative solution can be agreed between the employer and the employee, that is the best option. For instance, they may be able to work offline or make up the time out of working hours.

If that is not an option and the employee is unable to work at all, then the employee may have to take leave.

If the employee has requested that they work from home and they are then not able to perform their duties due to a power cut in their home or some other technical reason, then they need to find an alternative solution which enables them to work. That alternative solution could be working from another venue, like a hot-desking space, or attending the office to work. If an employee is not able to work and cannot find an alternative solution, then they can take emergency leave as unpaid leave or annual leave.

However, if an employee who normally attends the office is advised to work from home by their employer due to safety concerns, and is then prevented from working at home due to a power cut, in those circumstances, the employer would be best advised to offer paid leave to its employee as the instruction to work from home came from the employer. The same applies in circumstances where an employer has closed a workplace, such as a store or a restaurant, due to bad weather and safety concerns but an employee is not able to work from home. Failing to pay someone who is unable to work through no fault of their own could be considered an unauthorised deduction from wages and a breach of the contract of employment and an employer risks a claim being made by its employee.

It is always best practice to ensure that all these situations are recorded in the employer’s home-working and hybrid-working policy so that all parties are clear on what will happen and to manage expectations.

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This article is for general information purposes only and does not constitute legal or professional advice. It should not be used as a substitute for legal advice relating to your particular circumstances. Please note that the law may have changed since the date of this article.