Extreme weather conditions can be hugely disruptive to business operations, if employees are snowed in at home, while others arrive several hours late due to travel disruption.
Living in the UK, with its unpredictable and varied climate, it makes sense for employers to have a bad weather policy. This will help to minimise operational impact by setting out the rules and expectations on the employer and employee in the event of adverse weather conditions.
Duty of care
Employers have a duty of care to their employees and a potential liability may exist if employees are pressurised into travelling when conditions are dangerous.
As well as their own judgement, employers should also follow any advice from the government or relevant authorities.
If the official guidance 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 come into the workplace.
A pragmatic approach
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.
Also consider flexibility regarding working hours, by accommodating 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. Employers will want to avoid employees being involved in an accident when driving in dangerous conditions, to avoid injury and the employer being held liable.
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.
While workers are now well established for home working following periods of lockdown, employers should still ensure they are up to date with their business continuity plan and IT systems to support remote working in the event of adverse weather.
Can employers dock pay?
There is no automatic right for an employee to be paid for working time they have missed because of bad weather.
However, if employer-provided transport is cancelled because of bad weather, and an employee was otherwise ready, willing and available to work, they should be paid for any working time they have missed.
Employers should proceed with caution when making deductions from wages.
A deduction from pay in most instances will be unauthorised unless the contract of employment provides for a deduction.
Even where the contract permits the deduction in these specific circumstances, the employer will need to weigh up how this will be received by employees and the impact this will have on morale. Employers should ask themselves the following questions:
- Has the employee made all appropriate efforts to attend work?
- Would it be possible for the employee to perform all or some of their duties from home
- Has a consistent approach been adopted between different employees?
Depending on the circumstances, employers may make discretionary, informal pay arrangements.
Can I make my employees take emergency 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 effectively 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.
Another consideration is that employees have a statutory right to unpaid time off work to care for dependents.
For example, if schools and nurseries close, many employees may find they need to deal with emergency caring responsibilities.
Employees are entitled to a “reasonable” amount of unpaid time off work to take “necessary action” to deal with situations affecting their dependants.
This time is unpaid unless a contract or policy says otherwise.
The terms of dependants’ leave should be set out in an emergency dependants leave policy. Employees should contact their employer as soon as possible to notify that they need to take time off on an emergency basis, explaining why they need to be off work at short notice, how long they expect to be off work and confirming they are taking the time off to look after dependants. The policy may allow the employee to take this time as annual leave to avoid being unpaid.
Business closure or reduced hours
If an employee is otherwise ready, available and willing to work, they will usually be entitled to their normal pay:
- if their employer fully or partly closes their business
- if their employer reduces their hours
- if other essential staff such as line managers are unable to get into work
- if staff who provide access to the building are unable to get into work
Bad weather policy
It is best practice to 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.
Considerations for a bad weather policy include:
- Responsibilities of workers to make every effort to attend for duty at their normal place of work while not putting themselves at unnecessary or inordinate risk when attempting to attend work.
- Responsibilities of managers to be aware of the bad weather policy provisions and to ensure all workers are treated fairly and proportionate to their needs taking into account individual circumstances.
- Making it clear that the worker must notify their employer as soon as possible that they are unable to make it into work due to bad weather or travel disruption.
- Whether alternative working arrangements may be available if an employee is not able to come into the workplace, such as working from home, making up the time/hours lost, taking annual leave or unpaid leave, or a combination of these.
- Whether any special arrangements apply for vulnerable employees or those with disabilities or health conditions which may be exacerbated by adverse weather conditions.
- Referring to any special pay arrangements, and whether there is any discretionary or informal arrangement in the event of travel disruption or bad weather.
- What to do if the employer makes the decision to close the workplace due to bad weather, for example, to attend at a different place of work.
- Whether lay offs may apply if there is a reduction in work due to the adverse weather.
Whatever options are decided on, an employer should keep in communication with their workers and be flexible, fair and consistent.
Working temperatures during adverse weather
Low temperatures in the workplace may make it unsafe for workers. Employers should take steps to ensure the safety of their workforce by making use of additional heating facilities such as portable heaters, relaxing any dress code to allow for warmer clothing and providing extra breaks for hot drinks. In these circumstances, employers may also have to send vulnerable workers such as pregnant women home, on full pay, for safety reasons.
The matters contained in this article are intended to be for general information purposes only. This article does not constitute legal advice, nor is it a complete or authoritative statement of the law, and should not be treated as such. Whilst every effort is made to ensure that the information is correct, no warranty, express or implied, is given as to its accuracy and no liability is accepted for any error or omission. Before acting on any of the information contained herein, expert legal advice should be sought.