The last few days have been some of the coldest in recent memory, thanks to Siberian storms blowing towards the already cold British mainland.
Each year the story is pretty much the same: bad weather means disruption to roads, schools and businesses; and as a nation, we are ill prepared. Not far across the sea, it is a legal requirement to use spiked tires on your vehicle as nearby as Iceland, and across Scandinavia bad weather is just another part of every Monday morning.
Due to the sporadic nature of UK weather, we’re not as ready for snow and ice as we could be. Employees frequently struggle to get to work due to roads being closed, public transport being cancelled or schools being shut.
Delays caused by unforeseen circumstances like these are commonplace, but they are not without their problems for businesses and their workers.
While you don’t want to make employees travel if it is not safe to do so from a health and safety perspective, if bad weather prevents employees from coming in, they must be able to show attendance is genuinely unfeasible. If you have one employee who does not attend, yet another who lives in the same area that does then questions must be asked. In these circumstance you may justifiably stop pay because the employee cannot do the work they are paid to do. When it is clear that staff genuinely won’t be able to make it in - such as those coming from rural communities with difficult routes, work does not have to stop. Having a contingency plan like allowing those employees to work from home is a fair compromise for all parties – there is no loss of continuity and employees do not lose pay or use holiday, so examples like this are a good compromise.
The best businesses need to be proactive not reactive. Alternative methods of working or consistent agreements over bad weather protocol avoids profits being hit and missed deadlines. By writing guidelines in advance, alternatives can be offered, like employees agreeing to use annual leave at short notice, or them using any lieu days that employees have accrued. This is reasonable, offers flexibility and means any delayed work can be done in the days that would have been used as holiday later in the year.
If there is a genuine need for it, you can enforce annual leave in some circumstances. However, this is usually difficult to do for short periods, as there are often notice periods to adhere to and employees might not be happy using up holiday time they had been saving for trips abroad or family days. A further consideration is the impact on staff satisfaction, or even staff retention further down the line, so a better approach would be to discuss guidelines and listen to the individual needs of staff, while emphasising the importance of getting into work as soon as is reasonably practicable.
While these ideas benefit individual employees who work in locations where it is hard to travel, the rules are different if the whole workplace is off limits. Offering or enforcing holidays are often the best options, but it is important to be aware that the rules change if the workplace is closed altogether. If your employees could and would have come into the office, pay cannot be stopped as it is seen as an employer, rather than employee issue, and the responsibility will be with you to get the workplace open as soon as possible.
Employees are legally entitled to full pay under these circumstances; although a ‘lay off’ can be agreed, where they do not receive pay, but are not given any work either. If employees choose this option, they may still be entitled to receive Statutory Guarantee Pay (SGP) for a maximum of one working week for every three-month period. This represents another great compromise for both parties, as workers effectively get extra holiday with some pay as a bonus, and employees lose less money while they are trying to resume services or waiting for severe weather to pass.
Transparency is important with this kind of arrangement as employees need to be contacted over the position of their lay-off period, and reducing pay to nil without an agreed lay-off period could lead to an employment tribunal, causing a headache for your business. This serves as a reminder to make sure your management staff know what the law requires.
Avoiding legal proceedings does more than save money and avoiding bad press. By doing the right thing by your staff, they are likely to be more positive and continue to work hard when normal business is resumed. This relationship can be strengthened by helping parents who are struggling for childcare due to school and nursery closures. Usually this just means that businesses will need to allow a couple of days unpaid leave, which should be seen as reasonable by all involved – again saving money and offering a perceived benefit to working at your company, which is a great way to retain and attract the best talent.
It is also worth considering that most people will try their hardest to get to work, and previous research has shown that only 8% of people typically use bad weather as an excuse for not coming to work. This paints a picture of a workforce who only miss work if they have to, and who can be trusted to work from home or make up lost time. This is fantastic news for business owners, as it suggests any alternative working practices offered will result in the same standard of work being achieved.
However trustworthy staff may be, it is crucial for you as an employers to outline clear guidelines to staff on how they should prepare for, and react to weather-based delays and absences. Recent studies indicate that around 79% of employees have worked from home during bad weather, which is evidence that continuity rates have been improved by modern mobile working. The main aim for your business should be to decide which alternative to normal working you prefer. Make sure your staff know what to do and that you treat them fairly – because winter will come again every year, and the right plan means business success all year round, not just in the sun.