As the UK braces itself for another period of extreme weather, and with winter in the not-too-distant future, companies should look ahead now to batten down the business hatches and prepare for what might occur as a result, specifically the possible rise in employee absenteeism.
As business professionals we like to stay in control of every situation, however when it comes to severe bouts of rain, wind and snow, our realm of capabilities are tested to their limits. No matter how infrequent we believe these events to be, when they do emerge many businesses fall into disarray, which is why implementing a contingency plan, incorporating protocols to follow in the event of these situations arising should be at the forefront of every businesses agenda. While you would not want staff to take unreasonable risks in attempting to get to work in difficult conditions, individual circumstances will vary greatly and therefore a single rule will not cover all eventualities.
It is important for employers to consider what they have done in the past when employees have been prevented from attending work through natural occurrences such as flooding, to ensure that their actions remain consistent and fair.
As an employer, you can expect your staff to make every reasonable effort to get to work, adapting their means of travel if necessary, even if this means they will arrive late. Employees must turn up for work as usual, unless told to the contrary. If an individual is unable to attend work because of the weather conditions they should notify you at the earliest opportunity. Where applicable, a member of staff may be required to work from an alternative base or it may be possible for them to work from home in some cases. Such options should be discussed and agreed.
If a member of staff arrives late as a result of extreme weather it could be unfair to expect them to make up the time lost. Likewise, you should consider allowing them to leave work early because of the weather. In the case of weather worsening or particularly hazardous conditions they should be able to leave work earlier than usual without having to make up any time lost.
In the event your business has to close, unless you have a contractual right to place employees on unpaid lay off (check your staff contracts for a clause which permits you to place you staff on unpaid lay off, or short time working), your staff are entitled to be paid in full for any hours they would have worked had the workplace been open for them to work. If you have had to shut down and therefore cannot provide work for your staff to do, then you must pay them. Alternatively, if staff are simply unable to get to work due to the adverse weather conditions, employers do not need to pay staff who cannot make it into work, when the workplace is open for business. In this instance, employees can be given the choice to of taking paid annual leave, using some of their holiday entitlement, or having unpaid leave.
Hopefully, you have already implemented a plan of action in the case of the aforementioned situations occurring, but if not, it is advisable that you do with immediate attention, to prevent unnecessary employee backlash by not having a clear structure in place.
Alan Price is employment law director of Peninsula.