Employment Issues and Bad Weather!

For the last day or so we have been faced with unprecedented weather and it seems set to continue. This is not “normal” snow and therefore a different approach is required. We set out below some guidelines for you to consider:

Normally, employees are obliged to attend work. Employers are obliged to provide work and employees should be paid for the work they do. But how is a “red” police warning treated?
Employers should bear in mind that employees have a statutory right not to have deductions made unlawfully from wages. Whether a deduction is unlawful depends on the circumstances – so don’t automatically refuse to pay someone who does not come to work because they have been advised not to travel under a “red” police warning (or even under an “amber” warning). Similarly if the employer has to close the premises then employees must still be paid as they are not able to attend work through no fault of their own.

If an employee’s failure to attend work is unavoidable then they may still be entitled to be paid. If you have a snow or adverse weather policy then it is always useful to rely on that – if there is a policy that states that people may work from home, or take annual leave for example then the policy applies, regardless of the warning issued by police. However if you do not have such a policy then consideration has to be given to what custom and practice has occurred previously. This situation is not usual and therefore employers would be expected to make an exception – pay staff now, and seek time back later.

Our advice is not to deduct pay but to have the discussion and make individual arrangements based on holiday or working up time, or working from home. Then, if you do not have a policy, let 121 help you develop one for the next Arctic blast!

ACAS advice is that the way an employer handles bad weather and travel disruption can enhance staff morale and productivity – building loyalty and resulting in staff being far more productive at home than wasting time trying to make a failed journey to work. Even if staff are not working on “normal” work but doing other things such as research or paperwork, this is more productive than frustrating and wasted travel time.

The overriding advice is not to be unreasonable. Employers must ensure that they are not putting excess pressure on employees to travel when advised by the police not to. We accept that employers may struggle to pay employees when they are unable to work, the other side of this coin is that employees may find themselves in difficult circumstances through no fault of their own.

Some alternative suggestions are:
• Making an agreement to make time up later
• Making an agreement to take the time off as paid holiday
• Suggesting a half and half split – the employee takes half the time as unpaid an half the time as paid holiday
• Suggesting allowing home working
• Suggesting working from an alternative office within walking distance of home (if feasible)

Employers are required to give notice of a compulsory holiday, of at least twice the length of the period of holiday, which means that in circumstances like this it is almost impossible for the employer to force the employee to take holiday. If an employer intends to deduct days from an employee’s holiday entitlement, they must make this clear at the earliest opportunity.

In terms of school closures, employees are entitled to take reasonable unpaid time off for unplanned circumstances which require them to look after dependents. This would almost certainly apply in the current circumstances where schools are closed and alternative childcare, particularly at such short notice, may be difficult.

However, the snow will eventually clear and this may be when there are problems. When is it reasonable to expect people to start travelling again? If an employer is concerned that an employee is using the weather to avoid returning to work this is treated in the same way as other unacceptable absence issue. Once public transport is running smoothly, not being able to take the car out of the driveway is no longer an acceptable reason for not attending work!

If you do not have an adverse weather policy and would like us to help, contact us at enquiries@121hrsolutions.co.uk

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