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Weather warning for employers: Be ready for winter staff issues

 Howes Percival answers six common questions on managing bad weather in the workplace  

With Met Office weather warnings in place this week, Paula Bailey from Howes Percival answers six common questions from employers about dealing with staff issues during periods of adverse weather.

Paula Bailey, Partner and employment law expert at Howes Percival commented, “To help ensure the smooth running of your business, it’s worth introducing an ‘adverse weather policy’ so staff know what is expected of them when severe weather strikes. The policy should contain clear guidance on procedures for staff who are unable to make it in to work.  It should also include details of the impact on pay, workplace closures, absence and leave and arrangements for working from home.  A well thought out policy, that is clearly communicated to staff and consistently applied, will help a business weather the storm.”

1. Do I have to pay employees unable to get to work because of bad weather conditions?

Employers may be under no obligation to pay an employee if they fail to turn up for work or arrive late, unless the employee’s contract of employment states otherwise.

The first step employers should take is to check whether they have any contractual provision or policy dealing with non-attendance due to bad weather, which clarifies the circumstances in which employees will be paid.  If these do not contain any such provisions, the right to payment may depend on the type of employee.  Piece workers or hourly paid employees with no guaranteed hours of work are unlikely to have any right to be paid wages if they do not turn up.  However, the position is less clear for salaried employees and it would be wise to seek legal advice before docking their wages for non-attendance.

Employers should also consider what has happened in the past. If employees have always been paid when unable to get into work because of bad weather, then they could argue that it is an ‘implied’ term of their contract that they are paid.

Employers could consider asking employees who have been unable to get to work to make up the time by working additional hours or extra days in return for being paid for their absence.

Another option is to seek to reach agreement with employees or their representatives that they take such days as holiday (assuming they have sufficient entitlement remaining). This should be agreed in writing, but an exchange of emails should suffice.

If the weather is particularly bad, employers could offer limited paid leave to all employees who have been unable to get into work (e.g. one or two days).

Ultimately, whatever approach an employer decides it needs to be clearly communicated and fairly and consistently applied.

2. How should I deal with employees who have used bad weather as an excuse to avoid turning up for work?

If an employer has suspicions that an employee is using the bad weather as an excuse for being late or having a day off work, then it may be able to treat this as a disciplinary matter.  It will depend on the circumstances of each case, but the employer will need to investigate the matter in line with its Disciplinary Policy to try and establish whether there is a disciplinary case to answer. It will also be important to ensure that staff are treated consistently.

3. Am I obliged to pay employees if I close my business premises due severe weather conditions? 

If an employer decides to close the workplace because of adverse weather, then employees should be paid regardless of whether or not they tried to attend work.  Employers should consider alternative arrangements to enable employees to work, such as working from home or working from another office or site nearer their home.

4. What if employees are unable to work because of school closures or other childcare issues?

Adverse weather conditions can lead to school or nursery closures or the unavailability of other childcare arrangements, leaving some employees having to take time off to look after their children. Leave in these circumstances should be treated under the statutory right for employees to take reasonable time off to care for a dependent in an emergency. This leave is unpaid, unless the employee’s contract of employment or any company policy states that the time off is provided as paid leave.  Employers cannot make employees in this situation use their paid holiday entitlement for the day(s) off instead.

5. How do I manage staff arriving late for work or wanting to leave work early because of poor weather?

It may be possible, during the adverse weather, to agree with employees a temporary change to their working hours – for example, to avoid travel when the weather is particularly bad. The agreement could state that employees will make the hours up another time or take the time as holiday.

Employers could consider, as a matter of good industrial relations, making payments to staff that have made genuine and reasonable efforts to get to work, even if they arrive late or have to leave early, taking into account the travelling distance involved, weather conditions, health of the employee, availability of public transport and the nature of the employee’s duties.

Employers should also be aware of potential health and safety issues and as a result should not force employees to attend or stay at work if official travel advice states that they should not be travelling when adverse weather is expected.

6. What Health and Safety issues do I need to consider?

Employers have a duty of care concerning the health and safety of their employees.  If the official weather or transport advice is to stay at home unless the journey is essential, then employers should avoid informing employees that they need to try and get into work despite this warning.

It is necessary to try and find a balance between encouraging employees to make all reasonable efforts to get to work and not requiring them to take undue risks. Forcing employees into a situation where they feel they have no alternative but to travel to work or risk facing a deduction from pay and/or possible disciplinary action should be avoided.  An employer could potentially be liable if an employee suffered an injury after being pressurised into travelling by car or foot in dangerous conditions.

For more information:https://www.howespercival.com/articles/adverse-weather-an-employers-guide-to-weathering-the-storm/ 

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