With recent weather events in Leeds and repeated snowstorms, it is important to address whether you have an adverse weather policy in place for employees. But what does that look like when most staff are now working from home?
Working from home and snow days
During the current lockdown, most people should be working from home where this is possible. This means that, in practicality, those who can’t work from home likely can’t work at all. This means that adverse weather policies are more important than ever.
But, for those members of staff who are at home, should employers be doing anything special when snow falls? Considering the current despair people may be feeling, and that parents have children at home instead of at school, as a morale boost, it could be a nice gesture for employers to allow employees a longer lunch break or an early finish, to enjoy the snow with their families.
Where people cannot work from home – Adverse Weather Policy
A clear, concise and up to date “Adverse Weather Policy” or “Business Interruption Plan” allows employees to make contingency plans by setting out what is expected of employees during periods of bad weather or the unexpected shut down of the workplace. This is especially important now, as where people cannot access the workplace they likely cannot work.
The law surrounding this area is unclear (especially regarding employees’ pay entitlement) and therefore your position should therefore be as clear as possible in your policy.
Such a policy should be incorporated into your staff handbook and brought to the attention of all staff when it’s initially introduced, but it’s also helpful to remind employees of the procedures they are expected to follow when any severe weather is forecast and when such a policy may apply.
Employers have a duty of care to protect the health and safety of employees and employees mustn’t be encouraged to attempt to travel to work in dangerous weather. Similarly, where the weather has deteriorated significantly during the working day, an employer should consider allowing employees to leave early to ensure they get home safely.
Does an employer have to pay their employee if they can’t get to work?
Whether there is an obligation is wholly dependent upon whether there is a contractual right to pay in such circumstances. You should check if there are any express terms within employee contracts or if there are any collective agreements in place that requires employees are to be paid.
If there is no contractual agreement to do so, an employer can choose whether employees are paid, although an employer should bear in mind that such a decision may hurt staff morale and may encourage staff to call in sick, which could entitle them to sick pay (although if they are falsely calling in sick then this could give rise to disciplinary procedures).
Furthermore, where an employer chooses not to pay employees when they are unable to get into work, they may be seen to encourage employees to take excessive risks in attempting to get to work, possibly breaching their health and safety obligations.
There are certain situations in which it is more likely that an employer will be required to pay an employee, for example, if an employee had been stranded on a business trip or the workplace had to be closed.
If an employer does choose to pay staff, you should avoid trying to set precedent for future situations by making it clear that choosing to pay is a gesture of goodwill and such decision was made on a ”case-by-case” basis to avoid any misunderstanding.
Alternatively, you may want to consider whether working from home is an option, as then the staff members can still avoid travelling through dangerous weather, but without sacrificing their pay.
If you don’t intend to pay employees for such absences, you may consider asking employees whether they would prefer to use annual leave, time off in lieu or whether they would prefer to make up the hours when they can attend work.
If we can be of any further assistance here at Thrive, we can draft an Adverse Weather policy for you, or we also offer HR packages where we can fully support you as an employer, including the drafting of a staff handbook and employment contracts.
By Alicia Collinson
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