Business briefing November 2014
Adverse weather and employee travel disruption
Winter is on the way and once again the issue of adverse weather raises its icy head. Should employees be expected to struggle in regardless of personal danger? What if the schools close and there is no child-care for little Johnny? This briefing highlights some practical steps that a business can take to reduce the risk of adverse weather affecting an employee’s contribution at work.
Adverse weather conditions (usually heavy snow and ice) can cause road closures, dangerous conditions and public transport delays or cancellations. Especially in country areas, a journey to work can be very hazardous if not impossible. So what approach should you take to employees who cannot, or say that they cannot, get into work?
What are the alternatives if an employee cannot get to work?
Homeworking and other workplaces
Consider whether working from home is an option for any of your employees. Such employees should plan ahead and consider taking work home if disruption is forecast. If the business operates at more than one site, consider sending employees to a more accessible site nearer to their home.
In some cases, depending on the weather conditions or the number of stranded employees, it may not be economical or even safe for a workplace to remain open. Any employees with contractually guaranteed hours or salary will still have to be paid if they are ready and willing to work, even if you do not need them due to closure, unless the business can rely on contractual terms such as a lay-off clause.
Paid annual leave
The business could offer its employees the opportunity to take the absence as paid annual leave, assuming they have sufficient entitlement remaining.
Time off for dependants
Employees have a right to take a “reasonable” amount of time off because of the unexpected disruption or termination of a dependant’s care arrangements. Bad weather or other disruption might lead to a school or nursery or day centre being closed with the result that an employee has to take the day off to look after children or others whom they care for. In such circumstances, a business cannot force the employee to use up their paid annual leave entitlement, and must not subject the employee to any detriment as a result of exercising this right.
The right to time off for dependants is unpaid, though of course you can pay an employee if you want to do so.
Making up the hours
A business could ask employees who do not want to take annual leave or unpaid leave to make up the lost hours on other days. If the business operates a flexi-time scheme or an annualised hours scheme, the terms of the scheme may already allow this sort of solution. Even where there is no such scheme, the business could reach an agreement with its employees over the lost hours.
Time-limited paid leave
While a business may baulk at the idea of giving unlimited paid leave to stranded employees, an alternative is to give limited paid leave, after which employees must take unpaid leave, make up the lost hours, or agree to count it against their paid annual leave entitlement. For example, the business may limit paid leave to one or two consecutive days’ absence, or (for instance) three days in any year. Watch out though for resentment from those employees who do manage to struggle in.
A winter hazard for employers may be discrimination, especially as more women than men will be affected if schools close. Remember also that a disabled person may find it harder than a non-disabled one to get into work when the weather is very wintery, so any action should not discriminate against them.
Practical steps to help reduce business risk
- Develop a business continuity plan by analysing the potential risks to the business (and their likely effects), and formulate a strategy to combat them. Plan for worst-case scenarios and the plan should work for more minor disruptions.
- Given the potential for legal uncertainty, consider including a clause in employment contracts to specifically authorise deductions from wages in such circumstances.
- Implement a policy setting out how the business will deal with adverse weather and other major travel disruptions.
- Publicise the policy internally before any likely period of travel disruption, and ensure that all staff and managers are aware of their responsibilities.
- Decide whether employees will be paid if they cannot make it to work, and ensure any guidance is applied consistently
- Always consider the employee relations angle. Deducting pay may harm morale, but also give staff an incentive to make the effort to attend. Paying absent employees may also lead to resentment by those who struggle in, unless they feel their efforts have been recognized in some way.