Have you considered a bad weather policy? You may have to!
Extreme weather conditions have had a massive impact on businesses with some employees being snowed in completely and others arriving several hours late, having struggled to get into work.
Employers have a duty of care to their employees and a potential liability may exist if employees were pressurised into travelling when conditions were dangerous. Be aware – if the official advice by the authorities is that people should stay at home unless their journey is absolutely essential, then potentially you may not want to put too much pressure on people to return to work.
Adopt a common sense and balanced approach between encouraging employees to make all reasonable efforts to get to work, and forcing them into a situation where they feel they have no alternative but to travel to work or risk facing possible disciplinary action.
Provide your employees with as much information as possible about weather conditions and travel disruptions and be flexible – consider allowing staff who are struggling to get into work to work from home, and allow flexibility regarding working hours – try to accommodate the difficulties people will have with their daily commute, by allowing staff to start work late or leave early.
If your employees are required to drive as part of their duties, consider allowing them to undertake alternative work. If an employee has a road traffic accident when driving in dangerous conditions, the last thing you want as an employer is to be held liable.
Can employers “dock pay”?
Employees are increasingly concerned that their employers may dock pay, if they are unable to get into work as a result of the weather. One argument is that if employees are unable to carry out the work that they are employed and paid to do, then employers do not have to pay them.
However, act with caution!
Firstly, a deduction from pay in most instances will be unauthorised unless the contract of employment provides for a deduction. Ultimately, if an employer deducted pay, the employer would need to consider the position of individual employees before acting and staff morale should play a part in any decisions.
Employers should ask themselves the following questions:
(1) Has the employee made all appropriate efforts to attend work?
(2) Would it be possible for the employee to perform all or some of their duties from home?
(3) Has a consistent approach been adopted between different employees?
Can I make my employees take unexpected time off as holiday?
Requiring employees to use part of their holiday entitlement is a less draconian option for employers and most probably a safer option, as unpaid leave is the same as a deduction from pay.
However, it is questionable whether an employer has a right to force the use of holiday entitlement at short notice.
Finally, employers must remember that employees have a statutory right to unpaid time off work to care for dependents. With schools and nurseries closing across the country, employers should be aware that employees are entitled to a “reasonable” amount of unpaid time off work to take “necessary action” to deal with situations affecting their dependants.
Bad weather policy?
Implement a bad weather policy. This can provide guidance for both employers and employees on what to do when faced with sudden extreme weather. Employees will then know exactly what is expected of them in such circumstances and when it would be reasonable for them not to attend work.
Now is a good time to review your business continuity plan and your IT systems. If your employees are able to work remotely by using the internet, blackberries and mobile phones, then working from home should be an option for those employees. Compromises in times such as this such as working from home, emergency leave or simply making the time up should be considered to lessen the impact on your business.