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Fuel Shortage Leaves Workers Stranded

Friday, 30 March 2012

Employers were already feeling the effects of yesterday's panic buying of petrol as workers claimed to be unable to make it into work due to the fuel shortage.

Business support specialists, ELAS, said it had been inundated with calls from clients seeking advice over whether to grant paid leave to staff unable to drive into work in areas where forecourts have run dry.

Peter Mooney, head of employment law, said: "Thankfully for bosses, the law on issues like this is very clear: if you don't turn up for work and you're not ill, you've no right to be paid.

"For those companies that stick rigidly to the rules at all times, that means any staff who call in today claiming the petrol shortage has left them unable to travel to work won't get paid.

"What we've been advising businesses, however, is to use a bit of discretion and think about how they have dealt with similar travel problems - such as the disruption caused by snow last year - before making a decision today."

Mr Mooney added that businesses had to be careful where a precedent may have been set, in case taking a different approach this time leaves them open to claims of discrimination.

If managers were lenient towards staff who they felt had made all reasonable attempts to get to work in bad weather in the past, then they should be equally understanding of workers who had tried to get to work without petrol.

He also warned that staff who could prove they did everything possible to get to work, and can highlight lenient approaches having been taken in the past, could bring  a case through the courts for unlawful deduction of wages.

If so, the legal costs alone could outweigh the benefits of withholding pay, Mr Mooney warned.

He added: "Obviously businesses which need fuel to operate are facing much tougher difficulties at the moment, but days without workers means businesses without money to pay staff, suppliers and so on.

"Of course, the smaller the business, the more acute the problem is and it seems the more rural they are, the greater the difficulty getting petrol.

"Now the threat of strike action has been lifted, today will be the only day businesses are hit, but if the shortages return then these are the types of difficulties, in this type  of climate, can be the difference between a business surviving and losing staff."

ELAS looks after the business compliance needs of thousands of small and medium sized businesses across theUK. For further advice, or to arrange an appointment with one of its consultants, call 0161 785 2000.