New Haven Train Outage – Getting Employees to Work

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TransporatationoutagequoteNew Haven Train Outage holds valuable Business Continuity planning lesson for all employers

Although your business may be on the opposite end of the country from New Haven, Connecticut, the recent power failure on a major commuter rail line in New Haven provides an excellent opportunity to review business continuity plans, specifically those sections related to workforce absenteeism.

According to WABC:

“Thousands of Metro-North Railroad commuters scrambled for alternate routes between Connecticut and New York City after Wednesday’s power failure on the New Haven Line.

Officials continue to try to find alternative power sources to end the hours-long delays that they cautioned could last for weeks after a high-voltage feeder cable failed in Mount Vernon early Wednesday.

PDF: Service map for inbound AM rush on the New Haven line

Con Edison crews have been working around the clock to fix the cable, but delays and overcrowded and slow trains making all local stops will be the norm until the issues is resolved.

“This is going to be a substantial disruption for a substantial period of time,” Connecticut Gov. Dan Malloy said. “Folks, plan on long-term lack of service or being underserved.”

Meantime, the governor is halting all routine roadway maintenance activities in lower Fairfield County, specifically on I-95, the Merritt Parkway, the Post Road (Route 1), Route 7, Route 123 and other busier secondary roads to ease the anticipated increased congestion due to the power disruption.

Malloy said the New Haven was the busiest in the nation, with 125,000 daily passengers and serving 38 stations and 23 towns”

new-haven-line-fixThe majority of steps needed to prepare for this risk are operational. Unlike the disasters that most companies plan for, a transportation outage will not primarily affect equipment and facilities, but rather the people companies depend on to produce products and services. Additionally, assumptions about a transportation outage’s duration may push the boundaries of most existing absence-from-work policies. Therefore, organizations must thoroughly examine their human resource management practices and policies, refining and/or implementing policies that address the unknown timeline of a transportation outage event.

Where to start?

Attendance / Absenteeism
Attendance related policies are traditionally designed to penalize employees who are late or absent from work. However, if there is a transportation outage crisis with accompanying traffic gridlock on major highways, employees who rely on public transportation may either be unable to arrive at work in a timely manner or at all. Attendance policies for an unexpected event of this nature must be examined and revised.

Questions to ask:
• If emergency preparedness plans are activated and a designated employee is sent to an alternative worksite, may a designated employee refuse to go?
• How will attendance policies be enforced?
• May an employee work a flexible work schedule in the event of a transportation crisis?
• Can management mandate an alternative work schedule?

Vacation/ Paid Time Off
Most existing Human Resource policies are designed to discourage sick leave. Employers must now consider either modifying their existing policies or extending time lines to address longer absences. In the wake of an extended transportation outage, will an employee be allowed to use sick leave?

The policies of many companies plan for fixed periods of planned leave (e.g., vacation, personal days), time off for illness, and unexpected time off for special circumstances (family medical leave, bereavement leave). An extended transportation outage, much like a pandemic, may have the potential to test the limits of each.

Questions for Consideration:
• What are an employee’s transportation options?
• If employees find alternate forms of transportation that add extensive travel time to their day, will they be compensated? Will they be penalized if they are still late due to additional traffic issues and tie-ups?
• Will employees be allowed to leave early to meet family obligations due to travel delays anticipated?
• Is it possible to provide company sponsored transportation?

Telecommuting can also help employers retain functionality as infrastructure issues and other challenges make the main worksite difficult to access. The key to successful use of telecommuting in the event of a transportation crisis is an effective routine telework program. As many employees as possible should have remote work capability (i.e. current telecommuting arrangements, connectivity, and equipment commensurate with their work needs and frequent enough opportunities to telework to ensure all systems have been tested and are known to be functional). This may entail creative thinking beyond current implementation of telecommuting, drawing in employees who otherwise might not engage in remote access and ensuring their effectiveness as a distributed workforce.

Successful Telecommuting programs include the development and enforcement of: Equipment Policies, Telecommuting Policies and a Telecommuting Agreement.

Employers need not implement a telecommuting arrangement when the employee’s presence in the workplace is an essential function of the job. The law does not require employers to ignore or jettison essential functions when considering accommodation requests.

Questions for Consideration:
• How does an employee request a telecommuting arrangement?
• Can the employer mandate telecommuting?
• Can management prevent employees from telecommuting? Must an employer grant a request to telecommute?
• Can employees recover additional costs incurred as a result of telework (DSL line, additional phone line, increased use of electricity, etc.)?
• If an employee is not able to report to the official worksite and must telecommute from home due to a transportation crisis, will pay be affected?
• What are the rules about the number of overtime hours a supervisor may require employees to work?
• If an employee is working from home because of a transportation crisis, and chooses to work 4 hours in addition to their regular 8-hours-per-day work schedule, will they receive overtime pay for the additional 4 hours worked?

Labor Unions
Unionized workplaces may already have policies, such as short-term absenteeism provisions, that will address transportation outage concerns in some fashion under their collective-bargaining agreements. Bargaining rights may be triggered if employers with unionized work forces attempt to modify those policies.

Employers with a unionized work force may have a duty to bargain with the appropriate labor organizations regarding any changes to the terms and conditions of employment resulting from a transportation crisis. Employers should also review existing terms and conditions to ensure that there is a disaster management provision (e.g., the ability to retain alternative or temporary labor due to high employee absenteeism).

An employer with a Force majeure in its union contract may have the right to deviate from the contract or to make unilateral changes in the terms and conditions of employment. This clause may relieve parties from the requirements of the contract in the event of an uncontrollable outside cause. The rights of the parties vary with each situation, but the bottom line is that responsible employers will review all documents to see whether such a clause should be included, deleted or revised.

If you have concerns for your business regarding a reduced workforce in the event of a transportation crisis or disaster contact us. Inquire about our Employee Absenteeism Event Toolkits


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