So far this year, we have been blessed with an amazing summer and a relatively mild autumn, but with the annual predictions of heavy snow this could change any time now. Therefore, it is advisable to be prepared for any complications that adverse weather conditions could bring to your company this winter.
Make it Clear
Create an ‘Adverse Weather’ policy for sharing with your employees, giving clear information on the various courses of action available during adverse weather conditions.
Employers cannot control the conditions of the highways or the success or failure of public transport at such times, but they can promote and influence safe actions and behaviours in their employees, particularly those who drive to or for work.
Therefore, your policy should make it clear to all staff that it is their responsibility to make every possible effort to attend work, even if that means exploring alternative means of travel and arriving late, but that they should not put themselves at inordinate risk to do so.
As inconvenient as staff absences during adverse weather can be, an employer should not encourage an employee to put themselves in danger by driving or walking in very unsafe conditions to get to work.
Other areas covered by the policy should include processes for employees to follow in the event they cannot get to work, employer expectations for communication and advance planning and preparation on the part of the employee, and the potential impact on pay for employees who are unable to attend work.
You may already have this outlined for employees as part of their Contract of Employment, but it is worth distributing this advice again as the winter months approach.
Prepare to be Flexible
If you have employees who use public transport to get to work, they may have limited control over the success (or failure) of their journey to work.
In these cases, investigate if there are alternative ways that they can continue to work, either in the absence of public transportation or where there are severe delays. Do note that this won’t necessarily be appropriate or suitable for all employees in all types of working environment, but for the cases of office-based employees, can you provide laptops with secure connections to the office network, or ‘disposable’ passwords that allow them to access the system temporarily while travelling? Could you consider allowing employees to work from home, using these same arrangements? (Do remember that should ‘working from home’ extend beyond that one occasion, you will still be responsible for the employee’s welfare while they work, with regards to insurances, health and safety and security).
Another element of flexibility needed is in the case of school closures, due to heavy snow or ice. Most schools will not announce their closures until the very morning, based on risk assessments carried out by staff on their arrival to school. This can leave many parents with little or no time to arrange childcare. By law, these situations often justify ‘dependent leave’, where the employee has a right to a reasonable amount of (generally unpaid) time off to deal with the immediate situation. If the closure is predicted to extend beyond that day, employees are expected to make arrangements for their children that will allow them to return to work.
Making arrangements to be flexible during adverse weather conditions will not only help minimise disruption to the working day, but also earn you the respect of employees who will value your consideration of their situations.
What About Late-comers or Absentees?
If an employee does not show up for work, or arrives late, it may be treated as an unauthorised absence, along with the disciplinary process that accompanies such an event. However, during adverse weather, which can lead to lateness or absence despite the best efforts of the employee to make it to work (i.e: failed or delayed public transport, blocked highways etc.), a little leniency should be considered.
Just as you cannot predict a child’s sudden illness, a car accident causing heavy traffic en-route, or a mechanical breakdown of a vehicle, whether their own or public transport, not every occasion of lateness or absence should be considered a disciplinary matter. This is, of course, unless you have grounds to believe that the employee is using the adverse weather as an excuse to skip work, falsely representing the difficulty of their situation, or generally taking advantage!
One of the best ways of making a fair judgement of these situations as they arise is through prompt and regular communication between the employee and employer. Make sure your employees know that keeping you advised of their situation as quickly as is reasonably possible is key to ensuring there is no need for unnecessary disciplinary proceedings. Understanding, flexibility and leniency can’t be offered to an employee who doesn’t let their team know what’s going on.
Adverse weather can be tricky to forecast, and the resulting effects can be impossible to predict accurately, so there can be no foolproof guide for ensuring all of your employees make it into work.
What you can do, however, to maintain consistency in your business and good morale amongst your staff, is to have a clear and well-communicated plan; arrangements for flexibility within that plan; knowledge of what you will do in the event of unavoidable lateness and absences; and a clearly communicated set of consequences should all else fail.