- It’s Cold Outside

It’s cold outside ….      

The first really cold snap of winter has finally arrived, and whilst employers may not be able to control the climate, there are some steps that you can take to deal with issues arising from adverse weather.

Trust

As ever, no matter how big or small your company, a fair and consistent approach in dealing with any problems bears great dividends, including those problems caused by adverse weather.

To help ensure consistency and understanding of approach, it’s advisable to put in place an “adverse weather” or “journey into work” policy dealing with such issues as the steps that employees are required to take to try to get into work on time and the consequences of their turning up for work late with regard to, for example, their pay.

Flexibility

Be flexible if bad weather conditions or public transport problems make it difficult for your employees to get into work and consider ways of allowing them to continue working. Can you allow them to work from home or to work flexible hours? Clearly this will not be appropriate for all employees in all working environments, but such measures might help to reduce unnecessary levels of absenteeism and ensure that work demands are met. It is also likely to promote goodwill amongst employees if they feel that you are being flexible.

If employees do work from home on anything other than a one-off basis, remember that you will need to bear in mind such issues as insurance, health and safety and security. Employers are responsible for the health, safety and welfare of their employees wherever they work.

Absence or lateness

If an employee does not turn up for work, or turns up late because of adverse weather, you could treat the absence in the same way as any other unauthorised absence. However, if an employee turns up late due to adverse weather, as this is a factor out of his/her control, perhaps you should consider being more lenient. While employers are entitled to treat unauthorised absence as a disciplinary matter, in the case of absence from work due to adverse weather, it will not normally be appropriate to discipline an employee, unless you have good grounds for believing that the employee is abusing the system, or that false representations have been made about his or her efforts to attend work.

Similarly, with regard to pay, even if you have a contractual right to deduct employees’ pay in the event that they do not turn up to work or are late because of adverse weather, consider whether it is really the right thing to do.  Occasional lateness for reasons beyond employees’ control is a fact of life, deducting employees’ pay is more likely to be appropriate in circumstances where they are seen to be abusing the system.

Closure of schools or nurseries

If schools or nurseries are closed, for example due to heavy snow making it dangerous or difficult for staff and children to get in, employees who do not have alternative childcare options may be in the position that, while they could get into work despite the weather, it is necessary for them to spend the day looking after their children.

Such circumstances will almost certainly fall within the dependant leave regime under the Employment Rights Act 1996, which includes the employee’s right to take a reasonable amount of time off. Time off in these circumstances is unpaid (unless the Contract of Employment provides for paid leave) and should last only for as long as necessary to deal with the immediate situation. If a closure is scheduled to last a week, it is reasonable to expect the employee to make some alternative arrangements within that time sufficient to permit him/her to return to work.

Health and safety

Remember that, under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, all employers have a general duty to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare of their employees at work. Failure in this duty can result in criminal sanctions.  Employees are also under a general duty to take reasonable care of their own physical and mental health and safety, and that of others who may be affected by their acts or omissions at work. There is also an implied term in every Contract of Employment that the employer will take reasonable steps to protect the health and safety of its workers in the workplace.

Severe weather may have a number of implications for your business. If, for example, employees work outside or have to drive as part of their job, they might be unable to perform their duties if the weather conditions are particularly poor. Their health may also be at greater risk if they work in the open air. You will need to ensure that you continue to comply with your health and safety obligations with regard to providing a safe system of work during periods of adverse weather by, for example, carrying out risk assessments and ensuring that employees have suitable clothing and adequate rest breaks.

You should not encourage your employees to travel in dangerous weather, either during working hours or when travelling to and from work. While an employer would not normally be liable for the acts of its employees when travelling to and from work, the courts have shown an increasing willingness to hold an employer liable for the acts of its employees taking place outside working hours where the act is closely connected with what the employer authorised or expected of the employee in the performance of his or her employment.

Are you ready?

From reading the above, you will have realised that ultimately it is not possible to be too prescriptive about what you should do in the event of severe weather and/or resulting public transport disruptions. However, thinking about it now should mean you are better prepared to handle it fairly and consistently.

Su Allen HR helps employers by providing a range of HR support that includes advice on how to handle ‘live’ issues and writing clear policies which ensure fairness and consistency in all aspects of managing employees. Contact us on 01582 883299 if you’d like to hear more.

Helen Skepper

Su Allen HR

The purpose of this information is to provide guidance only.  Reference has been made to various publications including People Management, Croners, Equality and Human Rights Commission, IDS and XpertHR. The information contained within this document is accurate, to the best of our knowledge. It is intended to provide general employment related information only and must not be relied upon as a substitute for legal advice from your Solicitor. Consequently we cannot accept any responsibility for this information or for any errors or omissions.