Disruption Due To Adverse Weather
Adverse Weather such as flooding or snow can cause various headaches for employers including: absence or lateness due to travel disruptions; the closure of nurseries or schools leading to childcare problems for employees and health and safety concerns.
My Top Tips For Dealing With Disruption Due To Adverse Weather
When there is a period of adverse weather you will have employees who are unable to attend work, or you may decide to close your business, or part of it, due to adverse weather. In these circumstances you need to decide how that lost time will be recorded and paid.
- Stipulate who employees should contact with any time limits – include contact details for extra clarity ie mobile phone numbers
- Situations to notify – you may want to include notification of anticipated lateness due to disruptions caused to roads and public transport.
Dealing With Lateness
As a general rule employees must be ready and willing to perform their duties at their contractual start time. So, where an employee does make it into work but are late you are entitled to treat the absence in the same way as any other period of unauthorised absence and not pay them.
I recommend investigating the reasons behind the lateness, for instance can they provide proof of the disruption and how did other employees who live in the same area manage?
An occasional incident of lateness for reasons beyond the employees’ control is a fact of life and a refusal to accept that and begin deducting pay would not be good practice and could result in bad feeling from your employees. I recommend leaving deductions to those employees who don’t turn up for work or you feel are abusing your policy.
Deductions From Pay
Generally speaking, employees are obliged to attend work and employers are obliged to provide work and pay the employee for the work they do. So, if employees fail to turn up for work, unless their contract indicates otherwise, the obligation to pay them generally falls away. But it’s not always that simple.
Employers should bear in mind that employees have a statutory right not to suffer unlawful deductions from wages. A deduction from wages will be unauthorised if there is no contractual basis for the deduction and could lead to an Employment Tribunal. Much depends on the circumstances.
However, if there is no guarantee of work (say, where there’s a zero hours contract), an employer will be in a stronger position to withhold pay.
Consideration has to be given to what is in the contract, the handbook (including any adverse weather policies), and custom and practice of the organisation, so some cases will be more straightforward than others.
The handling of bad weather and travel disruption can be an opportunity for an employer to enhance staff morale and productivity by the way it is handled.
Bear in mind the obligation of ‘trust and confidence’ to employees. That means, in short, not being wholly unreasonable. Bearing in mind the ‘do not travel’ advice, take care to ensure that you are not putting excess pressure on employees. Flexibility is the key. While you may not be able to afford to pay employees when they are unable to work, employees will always be in difficult circumstances through no fault of their own.
Alternatives to Attending Work
So, what alternatives can you consider when an employee can’t get to work?
- Holidays – allow retrospective or on the day approval for a limited time
- Proportioned Holiday – consider allowing a day’s annual leave to be split down into hours thus allowing employees to arrive later and leave early until conditions improve
- Making Up Lost Hours – if you don’t currently have a flex system in place and are implementing a temporary system ensure you stipulate the time frame by which any negative balance must be brought into a positive balance i.e. one month
- Working from Home – not ideal for many jobs but with lap tops and mobile phones it is become more widely acceptable and most office-based jobs can be adapted for a short period of time, if this will be an option ensure that the type of work is agreed in advance so you know exactly what your employees are doing and what work, if any would need to be redistributed amongst those who can attend work
- Unpaid Leave – if all paid options are exhausted allow the employee to take a period of time as unpaid
You may of course offer a combination of some of the above, so an employee might take a day off work which is split as half day of paid holiday and half a day of unpaid authorised leave.
School Closures Due To Adverse Weather
If schools are closed and parents do not have alternative childcare this is likely to constitute an emergency situation and entitle the employee to time off to deal with the situation.
While, there is no obligation to pay the employees for that time off, a discussion with the employee would still be appropriate; those who have to take the time off to look after dependents must be given the same flexibility as those who are unable to travel to work.
If your employment contract does not contain an express right for you to enforce holiday on dates of your choice, you would need to seek the employee’s consent to enforce holiday. Even with the right you might not be allowed to enforce them retrospectively.
Employers are required to give notice of at least twice the length of the period of holiday, which often renders it impractical as two days’ notice would be required for one day’s leave.
Closing Your Business
If your employment contract contains an express right for you to lay-off employees then you could follow that procedure and lay your employees without pay or with guaranteed pay.
Where you don’t have a lay-off clause and you close your business, you are preventing the employee from working and therefore with-holding pay could bring risks of claims for unauthorised deduction from wages.
If you would like me to review your contracts please get in touch.
What About Employees Who Are Taking Advantage Of The Adverse Weather?
There will always be one employee who will try to take advantage of the weather to avoid coming in to work. If your suspicions are aroused investigate their story for instance delayed or cancelled trains or buses should be easily confirmed.
When you investigate a situation and feel an employee hasn’t told you the truth you may consider disciplinary action.
Before establishing Kea, I was working in Sheffield City Centre and took two phone calls, in close succession, from employees saying they couldn’t get into work. The first lived in Derbyshire, didn’t drive and the trains were cancelled, that was easily verified as true. The second had a flat in the city centre which I could see from my office window, I asked if they were at home or staying at a friends/relatives and they said yes I’m at home, I asked if they were injured or ill and they said no, so I told them to get to work.
Treating employees consistently is the key to getting the best reaction from your staff, so keep this in mind when taking decisions regarding pay or other arrangements. By being more flexible and not just deducting pay, it is more likely that you will motivate staff and make up for lost time. Finally, don’t forget to recognise the efforts of those who do show-up, particularly if you have decided to provide paid leave to those who didn’t make it in.
Planning For The Future
Travel disruption is increasingly more common. It would be worthwhile taking this opportunity to consider amending HR policies and employment contracts to ensure clarity for both you and your employees.
Policies could be changed to provide flexibility for both sides on things like payment of wages, flexible and home working and holidays, where adverse weather (or unplanned circumstances) prevent employees attending work or cause you to take a reasonable decision to close the workplace.
An Adverse Weather Policy is a must as it removes any confusion about what you expect from your employees in terms of notification of absence and manages their expectations about what will happen in terms of recording the absence and payment if they don’t make it in to work
Do You Need HR Support?