Recent extreme weather conditions have had a significant impact on businesses and with new flood warnings issued the UK is preparing itself for more disruption. In addition the US has been hit by severe cold weather, with temperatures dropping to -37C. The ensuing travel disruption has led to a number of businesses being forced to temporarily shutdown. Employers should take this opportunity to ensure contingency plans are in place to deal with such unexpected disruption.
Advice for Employers
• Firstly, a practical and common sense approach should be taken by employers.
• Where possible allow employees who are struggling to get into work to work from home. Now would be an appropriate time for employers to look at their IT solutions and contingency plans for situations such as this. Working remotely using the internet and smart phones should be an option for many employees who are unable to get into work.
• Provide employees with as much information as possible about weather conditions and travel disruptions.
• Forcing employees to come into work when it is unsafe would not be wise. Alternatives should be exhausted where possible. In extreme circumstances it could be a health and safety issue for employers, for example when the police have advised motorists not to travel unless essential.
The legal position – to pay or not to pay
• The basic position is that if employees are unable to carry out the work they are paid to do, employers do not legally have to pay them. Employers should check the contract of employment and any relevant policies to ensure there are no separate contractual provisions.
• Employers may wish to exercise their discretion and pay employees who are genuinely unable to attend work because of the adverse weather. Employers should be careful to exercise their discretion in a fair and non-discriminatory way.
• Employees have a statutory right to unpaid time off work to care for dependants. With some schools and nurseries closing due to the poor conditions, employees are faced with a difficult position and no childcare provisions. Employees have the right to take a “reasonable” amount of unpaid time off work to take “necessary” action to deal with particular situations affecting their dependants. Employees should be seeking alternative childcare arrangements and employers are within their right to reduce pay accordingly.
• In some cases it may be more practical for employees to take emergency holiday to cover any time off during this period. Alternatively employees could be asked to make the time up by working extended hours at another time.
Contingency plans should be utilised at this time. If there are no contingency plans in place it would be sensible to start drafting now! Staff morale has to be a factor in deciding how to deal with the bad weather, however employers understandably cannot afford to pay non-working employees indefinitely during the severe weather. Compromises such as working from home, emergency leave or making the time up should be considered.