Adverse weather conditions - how this impacts on your business and managing employees
Employers are perfectly entitled to expect their staff to carry out their normal contractual hours and duties during adverse weather conditions. However it is important to remember the need to be flexible to respond to individual circumstances when weather conditions affect attendance at work.
It obviously depends on the geographical area of the workplace as some areas may be worse than others and you will want to avoid encouraging employees to travel in dangerous conditions, either during working hours or when travelling to and from the workplace. In addition, there may be employees with particular needs for whom reasonable adjustments may need to be made, or employees who due to school closures may need to take time off to care for dependants.
Responses to absence and lateness
Managers and staff should discuss as soon as possible how any absence from the workplace or lateness caused by extreme weather conditions should be treated. Possible solutions include:
Home working may be a solution for certain staff in the circumstances. Alternatively, it may be possible for the employee to work from another branch or office if this is relevant or available.
Flexible working or taking annual leave
Employees who will be absent or delayed or who wish to leave work early because of worsening conditions should agree this with their manager. You may decide that these employees should either make-up these lost hours at another time or decide to treat this time as part of the employee's paid annual leave or, if necessary, unpaid leave (see below on pay entitlements).
Unpaid leave or lateness
In theory, if an employee does not fulfil their full contractual working hours they are not entitled to be paid for that time and would not constitute an unlawful deduction from wages, provided that pay is only withheld for the relevant period of absence. However, before pay is withheld, employers should check the contract of employment carefully in this regard.
By closing an office or a branch or by instructing employees not to travel to work, you as an employer are preventing the employee from working on that day and, as this is through no fault of their own, they should receive pay as normal for that day.
Reasonable employers should use the option of withholding pay only as a last resort. It is advisable to discuss with affected employees all of the appropriate alternatives to cover the absence before deciding to withhold pay, such as home working, flexible working, or treating the absence as part of the employee's paid annual leave. Equally, employees should be told in advance that the periods of absence or lateness will be unpaid. Decisions should be taken on a consistent and fair basis, to minimise the risk of claims of discrimination and/or constructive dismissal.
Absence due to childcare commitments because of school closures
As a result of school closures some employees may need to take time off to care for their dependent children. In these circumstances, a combination of paid and unpaid leave building on the existing carer's leave provisions may be more appropriate than home working. It should not be forgotten that the statutory right to take time off to deal with unforeseen events regarding dependants does not provide the right to take extended leave, but only the right to take off what time is reasonable to allow the employee to deal with the unforeseen event. Similar principles should be followed in relation to other dependants, and older or disabled relatives. Authorities will want to strike a balance between the need to maintain services and the pressures that fall on employees who have childcare and other caring responsibilities.
Staff working additional hours to cover absence
Where there are increased absence levels in critical service areas, you may need to ask those able to get to work to work additional hours. Line managers should ask for volunteers from existing employees and agree such additional working hours. You may also be able to call upon employees who have contractual overtime arrangements in place.
However, additional working hours are subject to the commitments in the Working Time Regulations. Care should be taken to ensure those working overtime do not put their own or others' health and safety at risk, and that they get regular rest breaks. If employees work additional hours, they should normally be remunerated through time back arrangements such as time off in lieu, or paid overtime or shift allowances.
Disciplining Employees taking advantage
If there is reason to suspect that an employee is abusing an employers' flexible approach to lateness or absence, you will need to investigate the employee's reasons for their absence to find out the true extent of the transport disruption and the impact on others who travelled from the same area. If abuse is established, you are entitled to treat this absence or lateness in the same way as other unauthorised absence. A failure to act reasonably may result in claims for unfair deductions from wages where pay is withheld, or even constructive or unfair dismissal.
Fairness and consistency
Whichever options employers adopt in response to disruption to the working week of their employees, they should ensure that managers implement the policy fairly and consistently, while taking into account the particular needs and circumstances of individual staff members. A policy or guidance for managers to use at these times will ensure a level of consistency and avoid confusion, and hopefully avoid employee relations complications or possible tribunal claims.