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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Written and reviewed by:
Helena Young
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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.

Written by:
Helena Young
Helena is Lead Writer at Startups. As resident people and premises expert, she's an authority on topics such as business energy, office and coworking spaces, and project management software. With a background in PR and marketing, Helena also manages the Startups 100 Index and is passionate about giving early-stage startups a platform to boost their brands. From interviewing Wetherspoon's boss Tim Martin to spotting data-led working from home trends, her insight has been featured by major trade publications including the ICAEW, and news outlets like the BBC, ITV News, Daily Express, and HuffPost UK.

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