By Daniel Hunter

Businesses need to consider contingency plans if they don't want to be affected by potential strikes by fuel tanker drivers, employment law specialist Bibby Consulting & Support has warned.

While a strike would cause all sorts of direct difficulties with trading through restricted delivery of goods and supplies, the main problem for companies would be staff not being able to get into work, or worse still simply using fuel shortage as an excuse not to travel to work.

A simple way of coping would be for employers to encourage a car sharing scheme to save on fuel. However, if the fuel shortage was such that people genuinely couldn't get into work, even via public transport, then businesses would need to look to their employment contracts in the hope that they had been drawn up with the appropriate terms, said Michael Slade, Managing Director of Bibby Consulting & Support.

"Our advice to companies is always to plan ahead, think what they would do if the unthinkable happens," he said. "If you have the correct contractual provisions in place, staffing cost issues can be avoided. This means having robustly worded contracts of employment covering areas such as lay-off and short time working.”

Lay-off clauses in contracts mean that employees get statutory guaranteed pay for the first five days that they cannot work. After this they get no pay at all.

“It is important to have the co-operation of staff and forward-thinking companies will have negotiated such a clause within their employment contract," Slade said. “If they haven’t, they could be forced to lay-off staff on full pay, something they can ill afford to do in today’s uncertain economic climate."

He advised that to avoid such a situation— and if there is sufficient notice — a business should think seriously about negotiating with its staff to take time off as part of their holiday allocation. But companies should bear in mind that for every day of staff holiday they want to enforce, they would have to give employees two days' notice.

They could also discuss with staff the possibility of them working from home — but make clear that this would be a temporary measure and not a change in their terms and conditions of employment.

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