All over the UK, employees struggle to make it into work due to the weather conditions every winter. With wind, rain, floods, ice and even talk of snow on the way, nearly everyone has been affected to some degree. When the weather makes it difficult to travel, employers should consider how this could impact on the workplace as well as setting out clear expectations for staff on how potential absences will be handled.

Below are answers to a few questions that come up time and again – by considering all of these, a business should be able to handle adverse weather with as minimal disruption to the business as possible.

Do I have to pay staff if they can't make it into the office?

There is no legal right for staff to be paid by an employer for travel delays (unless the travel itself is part of their normal working time or if the employer provides the transport). However, employers may have contractual, collective or custom arrangements in place for how to handle travel disruption. Before making a decision on to handle a situation where someone is unable to get to work - check staff contracts, handbooks and staff meeting minutes for how this has been handled in the past.

 

How flexible do I have to be?

A flexible approach to matters such as working hours and location may be a solution. The handling of bad weather and travel disruption can be an opportunity for an employer to enhance staff morale and productivity by how it is handled. Can employees work from home? Could alternative working patterns be put in place? Is there a possibility to swap shifts around between staff?

The internet and email can be very useful in enabling a business to run effectively if many employees are absent from work. In today's world, so much can be accomplished remotely through laptops and smart phones, especially if they are able to access the internal server from home.

How can I avoid treating some members of staff unfairly?

Any measures taken should be carried out according to proper and fair procedure, even if businesses suffer from the consequences. Everyone must be treated the same, and the sooner employees understand what is expected from them – proper notice, working from home, working later to make up the time – the better. This will help maintain good, fair and consistent employment relations and help prevent complaints.

What level of responsibility do my team have?

Staff members should also be considering in advance how they would handle adverse weather - but it's important that they are told that they need to consider this ahead of time.
Ask employees to consider the following:

    • How will I get to work? Trains and buses might be operating reduced timetables or be running earlier or later than normal and road travel could be delayed by road closures or slow driving. They will need to consider alternative routes or travel methods to get into work – and of course home at the end of the day as well.
    • What arrangements are in place if my child cannot get to school? If the normal childcare provider is unavailable or if their school is closed, what are practical back-up arrangements that they can put in place?
    • How (and when) will I get in touch with the company to make them aware of any disruption? Employees will need to know who to speak to and ensure that they have a means of communicating with the company if they are going to be delayed.
    • How can the disruption be reduced? It's important that the employee is considering this as much as the business – there might be a solution that suits them, such as working from home, altering their hours or swapping shifts with others in the company.
    • How will this affect the rest of my team? If possible, a handover document or at least clear instructions on any deadlines that need to be met should be presented to whoever will be covering for the employee to make sure that nothing falls through the gaps.

What happens if my staff want to take unpaid leave?

In emergency situations, an employee is entitled to take unpaid time off to look after dependants, and in some cases, extremely adverse weather could be considered an emergency – especially if schools have shut down or businesses closed. However, whether this is classed as an "emergency" is still at the discrepancy of the company.
'Time Off for Dependants' means that an employee is entitled to take as much unpaid time off as an Employment Tribunal decides is reasonable in order to make alternative arrangements for childcare, and the right to time off may vary as per each individual's circumstance. Whilst some employers may offer this as holiday, this is only with the agreement of the employee - and if the employer chooses to offer or accept it.

What can I do ahead of time to avoid disruption in the future?

Consider implementing or reviewing the company policy on adverse weather in order to know how best to deal with future scenarios. The policy will cover the steps employees are required to take to try to get into work on time and how the business will continue if they cannot. Issues such as what is done about tardy arrivals and if this affects wages should be covered as well. Having such a policy will mean there is much less scope for confusion and disagreement.

As long as the decisions made are fully considered well in advance, and communicated clearly with all members of staff, disruption caused by weather should be minimal. It's also important to keep in mind that a happy workforce is often the most productive one – ensure that considerations of employee situations are taken into account and the staff feel as though they have been heard.

Jane Sevier is the director of HR company Sevier Consultancy Group

 

Link to article in HR Zone

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