We have had a few years of workplace absences, primarily of course down to Covid 19. But as appalling weather conditions appear to be about to hit the north and east of the UK, employers are asking exactly what they can or cannot do to make sure their organisations continue as normal. And, what they can and cannot insist their employees do in the face of adverse weather.
Until the start of the pandemic, the law was pretty clear that employers were only really responsible for their employees once they had turned up at work, prior to that in most cases, it was the employee’s responsibility to get there.
Certainly, with widespread infections and the threat of contagion on public transport, that debate has moved on a little since March 2020. However, we suspect that the principles for bad weather remain the same as before.
The good news for many employers is that they have been used to having a workforce who can work from home; bad weather does not change that. But, for those employees who continue to be required in the workplace, what is the situation?
The general principle has always been that employees are entitled to be paid when they turn up to work. So generally, if an employee cannot make it to work due to bad weather, their employer is not obliged to pay them. Traditionally, days lost to adverse weather can be deemed to be classed as Time Off In Lieu (known as TOIL) or unpaid leave by the employer.
Whether that is a policy that will endear you to your employees, however, remains a moot point. For these situations where employees cannot or will not get into work, there are a number of things you could do.
- Agree with your staff that they should take the days as holiday. This stops them having to struggle to work in really adverse weather conditions, and means it does not cost the organisation anything.
- Employees can agree to make up the hours once the weather has improved. Obviously, in the case of prolonged bad weather, this may become impracticable, but for a day or so it may be a sensible solution.
- You could reallocate work to those individuals who normally do not work from home to carry out some tasks that need doing, clearing up your database, or other administrative tasks that can be done from home.
- For organisations that have more than one location, you could close a particularly badly affected workplace and send them to other locations.
- Or, you could throw your hands in the air and decide that work is simply not possible today, we will reconvene tomorrow when conditions have improved.
Bad weather occurs from time to time, having a consistent policy to deal with bad weather conditions and informing your employees exactly what is expected of them is important. All of our clients have such policies, usually termed Disrupted Travel Policies, that they can turn to, as can their workforce to see what the general approach should be.
It will not give an answer to every individual situation but it should give a structure that then allows Managers to make informed, sensible judgments.
The guidance provided in this article is just that – guidance. Before taking any action, make sure that you know what you are doing, or call an expert for specific advice.