Rail strikes: what if my employees can’t make it into work?

Today is the first of three national rail strikes across the UK this week - the biggest walkout in 30 years. What does it mean for employers?

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This week’s strike action promises to cause significant disruption for small businesses across the country.

Only a fifth of trains are running today as over 40,000 rail staff walk out to protest pay and redundancies. More strike dates are due later this month and in July.

If you or your employees are reliant on the train to get into work, then you may be wondering what to do when there are strikes affecting your route.

We hear from Alexandra Farmer, an employment law adviser at WorkNest, who explains the legal rights that both employers and employees have on strike days.

Paying the freight

Different workplaces will choose to instil different policies as to how to approach the strike action.

However, as Farmer explains, if an employee can’t get into work because of rail strikes but the workplace is open and work is available, then they have no legal right to demand to be paid for the day.

This includes any time missed during the work day when a staff member is delayed due to traffic disruption.

Still, Farmer warns that taking too stern a hand will likely have negative consequences for your relationship with your employees. Good employers should take the exceptional circumstances into account.

“A refusal to attend work could in theory lead to disciplinary action,” Farmer acknowledges. “[But], if there is a genuine reason why it is difficult to travel to work, this is an unlikely outcome.”

Be flexible – if you can

An accommodating approach is to communicate one-on-one with your employees to find out how they travel into work and how badly they will be affected.

“If your employees can work from home then this is an obvious solution,” Farmer says. “Where that is not practical then pre-plan for strike days. If the employee could take the day as a holiday or as unpaid leave then do so.”

There are some issues relating to employment law and holidays that you should be aware of here, however. If an employer wants to force the employee to take holiday at a set time, you must give notice equivalent to twice the length of time of the holiday requested.

Other options include allowing staff to work longer hours on a non-strike day to make up the time lost.

Those that employ shift workers will be able to change rotas around people’s commuting capabilities.

“More creative solutions may be to arrange taxis or minibuses for employees when public transport is off,” Farmer suggests.

How can I claim compensation for employee travel?

If your firm covers employee transport costs as an employee incentive – whether in the form of a season ticket or an advance ticket – you will be able to claim at least some of your money back.

Depending on the operator, you typically have to contact the company and provide a picture of your ticket, pass, or a receipt, and provide details of the train you were supposed to be on.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps gave assurances over season ticket compensation as part of what's called the “Delay Repay” scheme.

The scheme will give pay-outs to customers if the train has been delayed by a certain amount of time.


Strike actions can be frustrating for employers who often have to pay for the burden of missed or delayed start-times.

However, it’s important to remember that, while you have no legal obligation to pay staff that can’t make it into work due to strikes, there are ways to soften the blow for your workers and keep relationships positive.

Communicate with your employees early-on to find out what solution they feel comfortable with.

Agree on a go-to plan that you can use during future strike actions. That way, you will feel more prepared to face the disruption caused and your workforce will be kept onside.

Has your business been affected by the rail strikes? What creative solutions have you come up with to manage the disruption? Email us about your experience at hello@startups.co.uk.

Helena Young
Helena Young Senior Writer

Helena "Len" Young is from Yorkshire and joined Startups in 2021 from a background in B2B communications. She has also previously written for a popular fintech startup.

Included in her topics of interest and expertise are tax legislation, the levelling up agenda, and organisational software including CRM and project management systems. As well as this, she is a big fan of the films of Peter Jackson.

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