HR considerations during power cuts
The invasion of Ukraine by Russia and resultant reduction in gas supplies to continental Europe has created unprecedented uncertainty for energy markets. Whilst Great Britain is not reliant on Russian gas to the same extent as continental Europe, energy security in Great Britain and Europe are related. The potential for a shortfall in gas supplies within continental Europe could have a range of knock-on impacts in Great Britain, creating risks around the ability of GB to import from continental Europe if required. National Grid has published a range of scenarios that could occur this winter as it assesses a highly uncertain period for power supplies, amid the fallout from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. It will also launch a “demand flexibility service” on 1 November that will encourage businesses and consumers to use power outside peak demand periods, including early evenings on weekdays.
So, what are the HR issues that arise if we do face pre-planned or unexpected power cuts in workplaces or workers’ homes?
Without power there are many businesses that simply can’t function at all. Even if it is still possible to function you will need to consider your Health and Safety obligations to ensure that staff on site have sufficient light to work by and warmth whilst in the workplace. This could also apply to employees working from home and experiencing power cuts.
Where you have staff that work from home you may need to consider arrangements for them to work in alternative locations, whether that’s on site or in a co-working space that still has power. This comes with additional considerations such as accessibility, child and caring commitments, the cost of travel, availability of transport and suitability of the alternative work location.
Pre-planned power cuts
With National Grid’s indication that they could implement 3-hour rotational power cuts across the country if necessary, there’s a chance that your employees or your business could be affected by power cuts. These are likely to be notified in advance, albeit, the advance notice may well be minimal.
Planning for business continuity during power cuts is more important this year than ever given the high costs of gas and electric supply and the impact of the war in Ukraine on European and UK gas supplies.
Where you have advance notice of power cuts you will need to consider:
- Alternative work that can be safely carried out without power
- Alternative work locations that could be utilised such as homeworking, co-working spaces, alternative sites.
- Utilising contractual lay off if you’re not going to have work available for a full week
- Utilising contractual short time clauses if you’re not going to be able to provide employees with their full working hours.
- Giving notice of a requirement for staff to take annual leave. You will need to give at least twice as much notice as the length of leave to be taken e.g. 2 days notice for 1 day of leave.
- Consulting with staff and agreeing some changes to working hours or working patterns during periods of disruption.
- Sending staff home on full pay.
Unplanned power cuts
There are fewer options available if power cuts are unexpected as you won’t have sufficient notice to put pre-planned or agreed forms of leave in place.
If you have to send your staff home, the starting point is that, if employees are willing and able to work, but an employer is unable to provide work due to a loss of power, the employee would be entitled to full pay whilst at home.
If you have a contractual right to put employees on short time working you may be able to utilise that clause a reduce working hours in a week without paying full pay for the lost hours. If you provided less than half of an employee’s weekly hours you would need to pay a statutory guarantee payment.
You are free to agree alternative hours or working patterns with employees on an ad hoc basis if necessary but you are likely to need an incentive to obtain the employee’s agreement as you may not be able to change working hours without the employee’s consent.
A collaborative approach that incentivises the workforce to be flexible when issues arise is the best approach to weather this winter’s storm; especially given current recruitment problems in some sectors and the ability for many employees to find alternative work very quickly.
Author: Sarah Edwards, Senior Employment Law Solicitor at Howarths.