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Is Your Business Prepared for Winter Staff Absence?

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Seasonal weather changes always seem to catch us slightly unprepared in the UK, even if we never get hit by quite the extremes that New York State has seen recently. As winter approaches, our roads become icy, trains get delayed and schools sometimes close. This causes major travel disruption and lost hours of work so it is good to know where we stand as employers and employees before it happens.

Missing Work Through Bad Weather

Employees do not have a right to be paid for days that they are absent from work due to travel delays, unless their contract provides one or the employer closes the workplace themselves. However, an employer who tries to reduce pay for an employee’s absence could face a claim for unlawful deduction of wages and see employer-employee relations become rather frosty.

The key to riding this storm is to create and communicate a clear policy for employees so that they know the procedure required when travel disruption occurs.

Employee Travel Disruption

When planning their commute in winter, employees should factor in the possibility for travel disruption so that any lateness is minimised. Employers can make this easier with a flexible working pattern, for example, by allowing those who arrive early in the winter months to leave earlier and be covered by those who arrive later.

Working from Home

For a low cost when bought in bulk, an employer can provide its staff with laptops and mobile phones so that they are able to work from home if they are unable to come into work. Any flexible working method must be explained clearly in the employment contract and deadlines may be necessary to ensure that employees avoid distractions.

Employees Dealing with School Closures

Employers should be aware that if a school closes at short notice and employees cannot get someone to look after their children then this may be viewed as an emergency situation. In that case parents are allowed as much unpaid time off as a Tribunal is likely to deem necessary to look after their dependents.

Employers can have an emergency telephone number so that they will know that the employee will not be at work and can adapt their workload accordingly. Employers can offer the chance to work from home in this situation so that this is not unpaid time off.

Fairness Between Employees

Those employees who do get to work may resent those who do not. If employees are suspected of falsely blaming snow for their absence, then it may be possible to take disciplinary proceedings against them. Employee relations must be managed carefully though.

Alternatively, if the employment contract allows them to, employers can give travel updates to its employees when delays decrease to notify them that any further time off must be taken as annual leave. This will motivate them to return promptly.

Establish a Clear Adverse Weather Policy for Employees

Employers should implement a clear adverse weather policy that states what is acceptable when weather problems cause delays. Employees should be given copies of this policy and sent a reminder in the months leading up to winter.This will make employees aware of their obligations to work and show the employer’s flexibility to solve any disruptions.

For specialist advice on bad weather policies for employees contact Aneil Balgobin via e-mail or by telephone on 0207 611 4848.

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