Labour Court – Robust attendance policy holds off pay claims by absent employees

Labour Court rejects adverse weather claims

The Labour Court recently rejected a claim lodged by the Mandate union on behalf of thirteen Cork-based Marks & Spencer employees who were aggrieved at their treatment by the retailer during storm Emma in March of 2018.

Background to the dispute

The employees did not attend for work on the day storm Emma struck the country. In the claim lodged by the union, it was noted that the employees followed the advice of the National Emergency Co-ordination Group, the Taoiseach and various government ministers to stay home and to stay safe.

The employees contacted the store to inform their employer that they would not be attending for work due to the adverse weather conditions in compliance with the Marks & Spencer Management of Attendance Policy.

The employees believed that the retailer acted unreasonably in failing to pay the employees for the part of the shift that they missed, particularly in circumstances where the store closed at 11 am and the bulk of their shifts were scheduled to be worked after 11.

The employer’s response

Marks & Spencer provided the employees who were not available to work their shift during the adverse weather with four separate options to make up any hours that were lost.

The employer emphasised that the thirteen employees who lodged the claim were treated exactly the same as all other employees. This consistent approach was the only way to ensure that the employer treated the hundreds of employees who came to work on that morning in a fair manner.

Marks & Spencer in its defence highlighted that the arrangements were in place for many years and were acceptable to employees and union officials alike.

The retailer also noted that it pays its employees one month in advance which meant no employees were at a loss at any point due to the disputed absences.

Labour Court recommendation

The Labour Court noted that the dispute could not be resolved by through a Conciliation Conference arranged under the auspices of the Workplace Relations Commission.

The Labour Court noted that employers are under intense scrutiny in such an exceptional weather event and that there is a high premium on the employer to treat all employees in a consistent manner in such circumstances.

Chairman Kevin Foley, on behalf of the Labour Court, accepted that the employer provided all employees with four different options to deal with any incapacity to attend work on the day in question and that all but the thirteen employees that made the claim took up one of those options. The court determined that the consistent approach adopted by the employer was in the best interest of maintaining good industrial relations and therefore rejected the union’s claims.

Are your attendance policies up to date?

Is your organisation prepared to deal with absence issues? This decision highlights the importance of having a clear policy in place and treating all employees consistently. With the increasing frequency of adverse weather events, an up to date absence management policy is vital.

If you have any questions on this or any other HR issue, please contact the advice line on +353 1 886 0350 to speak with one of our experts.





















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