Snow day

How did you handle the recent snow day? Normally, a bit of snow is great fun. Who doesn’t love a spot of snowman building, after all?! But adverse weather is likely at some point to give employers concerns about employee absence levels. So what do you need to know about the impact of bad weather conditions?

1. Minimum working temperature
As the winter weather bites, do you know what protection you have to provide for your employees from the chill?
The answer to whether you need to provide a min or max working temp isn’t entirely straight forward, and it depends on a number of factors such as whether your staff work inside or outside. The HSE has guidance about protective clothing for cold weather, health issues and management guidelines, but are you familiar with it and how it impacts your particular business?

2. Paying staff who can’t get to work
Do you have to pay staff who are unable to get into work due to snow and difficult transport conditions?
Employees are obliged to attend the office unless they are sick, on holiday or on maternity leave etc. The onus is, therefore, on employees to come into work. Technically, this applies even in extreme weather conditions. So, if the office is open and employees cannot make it into work because they are ‘snowed in’, one view is that you are entitled to treat their absence as unauthorised and are under no obligation to pay them.
However, despite some statutory protections it is almost never this straight forward and many other factors can come into play, such as an employee’s normal mode of transport being out of action due to severe weather disruption, that mean you may need to revise this view. First, you should encourage employees to explore alternative means of transport. For sure you should be considering whether your employment contracts and handbooks make clear what your adverse weather policy is.
You also need to think hard about weighing up the benefits of the financial burden to the business of paying staff in these circumstances against the benefits that such a gesture would have on staff morale and productivity in the long run – especially if the snowfall is particularly heavy and it is impossible to get into the office.

3. ‘The school closed and my employee is stuck at home with the kids’
If schools are closed or an employee’s nanny is unable to make it to work because of the severe weather and there is no one else available to look after the children at such short notice, what are the implications for employers?
Again, it’s a little bit complex. There are statutory rules which allow parents to take time off when there is an ‘unexpected disruption to childcare’ , often know as Time off for Emergencies, but this time off is unpaid, and parents are protected from suffering a detriment for doing so.
What is clear though is that your business needs a clear and unequivocal policy for work absence on snow days such as these and it is equally important for employers to adopt a consistent approach to the policy adopted for employees without children.

4. So why not just work from home?
You need to ask yourself whether this would suit the needs of your business? It won’t of course always be practical, for instance, if your staff are in a front of house customer facing role or are a delivery driver perhaps.
Typically, if it is safe to travel, employees should come into work as usual. But where it is unsafe to leave home, it has become infinitely more feasible to work from home, as many employees have mobile devices and can access their work email and office applications remotely via a laptop, home PC or mobile phone.
It is really worth considering incorporating a home working policy into your staff handbook. You can decide up front what needs your business has and head off at the pass any ambiguity or debate when the snow finally does arrive!

5. Closing the office
What if you are forced to close the office due to the severe weather conditions?
It is a last resort decision for most. And if you need to temporarily close your business premises at short notice because of unforeseen circumstances, such as heavy snowfall, and there is no work available for your employees as a result, you can’t usually withhold pay.
Have you put together a business continuity plan? Do you and your staff know what to do in these circumstances?
Next steps
It may be that the best you can do – is just to minimise the chaos! It does seem that the UK is beset by ‘unexpected’ snowy weather every year. It is therefore worth thinking about planning ahead for the unexpected. You could adopt an ‘adverse weather policy’ so employees know what you expect of them when severe weather strikes. This will also help avoid confusion and conflict when the snowfall arrives.
Alternatively, you could amend your normal absence policy to cover such instances. The policy should contain guidance about workplace closures, disruptions to public transport, working from home and remote IT access, whether employees will be paid if they fail to attend work, disciplinary sanctions for ‘snowball’ days and whom employees should contact once they know they will be unable to make it in.
With occurrences of severe weather on the rise, putting in place a clear adverse weather policy could be a worthwhile investment. Either way, it is worth popping a review meeting in the diary with me to discuss the right approach and solutions for your business this Winter. I can take the ‘unexpected’ out of the situation for you, and help you establish a simple management framework for the future. It needn’t cost a bundle in terms of time of time or money either. Give me a call.