Everyone hates rail strikes, most of all commuters. So what happens if your employee phones in this Friday to say they won't be able to get to work because of the RMT rail strike?

The best advice is be flexible, and most of all, be open minded.  Many hours can be wasted by commuters attempting to get into the office using replacement bus services.  If you allow homeworking, it may be more practical for your employees to work from home rather than sitting half the day on a bus.

There is no automatic right to be paid if an employee is unable to attend work due to public transport problems – the general principle being "no work, no pay".  Some larger employers have policies which deal with travel disruption (particularly useful when the dreaded snow brings all transport to a halt). For most, though, there is unlikely to be a policy or anything in the employee's contract which caters for this specifically.

It is worth considering whether to be lenient.  Withholding pay for simply turning up late for work may not be the best policy to motivate your employees.  It may be more appropriate to reserve non-payment to situations where the employee doesn't turn up at all, or where they are abusing the system.  Rather than insisting that the day should be unpaid, an option is to suggest, but not insist, that the employee takes annual leave instead.  Most importantly though, remember to treat all employees consistently to avoid discrimination claims.

If the employee simply fails to turn up without informing you, this would give you the option of starting formal disciplinary proceedings. Similarly, if you felt they were being remiss in their efforts to turn up for work, you would be justified in initiating disciplinary proceedings.  However, unless the employee has a track record of this sort of behaviour, the most you could do is issue a formal warning; it will not be a sufficient reason to dismiss the employee fairly.

Not all employees will have the same excuse for not turning up. An employee with childcare responsibilities may be unable to attend work because their children's school or nursery may be closed due to the strike.

Employees have a right to reasonable unpaid time off to take action which is necessary because of the unexpected disruption of arrangements for the care of a dependent. Closure of a school may count here. The employee's right is for "reasonable" time off, to "take action which is necessary".  Whether it was "necessary" in these circumstances would depend on how much notice the employee had of the closure and whether there was an opportunity to make other arrangements. This could mean that if alternative childcare, such as grandparents, is available, you could reasonably expect the employee to use this option rather than look after the child themselves. This right is dependent on the employee telling the employer the reason for his absence as soon as reasonably practicable and how long he expects to be absent for.  Tread carefully if you don't believe the employee and are thinking of disciplining them for exercising this right.  Any ill thought-out disciplinary action could give rise to a detriment claim, or worse still, a claim for unfair constructive dismissal.

In most circumstances a good degree of common sense and flexibility by employer and employee alike can resolve the travel problems inflicted by strikes – if only the same could be said for the strikers.