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Snow Disruption - What are an employer's rights?

It is that time of year again when heavy snow and ice is likely to cause much disruption to businesses across the UK. The MET office has warned that the current cold weather is likely to last for some time to come and it is only December!

At your workplace, you may find that as a result of the weather, many of your employees do not get into work. As an employer's ally, Park City have put together the following advice for employers that explains what rights you have as an employer to manage this issue.

Crucially, the clearer you are with your employees, the less impact there will be on your workplace. Remember, the decisions you make during these difficult periods may have a large impact on employee morale and how the company is regarded both internally and externally and should not be taken lightly.

Q. What do I do about pay if an employee couldn't get into work?

Unless the employer contractually states that they will provide transport for their employees, the responsibility for getting into work rests with the employee. If an employee does not get into work, the employer has no obligation to pay them.

Strictly, days missed as result of poor weather should be unpaid as authorised absence. Some employers, however, will take the view that as a result of the travel warnings not to make non-essential journeys, days missed may constitute part of annual holiday.

Alternatively, you the employer, may decide to still pay your workers on a discretionary basis.

You must also remember that employees have legal protection against unauthorised deductions from their wages. You have no contractual right to deduct pay unless there is a specific clause written into the employee's contract. If this clause is not present, deducting pay may lead to a legal challenge by the employee.

Q. I think that my staff may be taking using the weather as an excuse to take a few days off work and they are not even trying to get into work. What should I do?

In most employment contracts the obligation to turn up to work is expressed explicitly. If not, it is certainly implied. If this obligation is breached by the employee, it must be very well justified or be classed as unauthorised absence.

If you believe that an employee could come to work but has chosen not to, you should undertake an investigation in line with your company's disciplinary procedure which may lead to formal action under this process. This will set an example to your employees that unauthorised absence is unacceptable in your workplace.

If you decide that the absence is authorised, you can state that days missed will be unpaid. Alternatively, the employee could request to take the day missed as part of their holiday entitlement. You could also make provision for the employee to work back lost time. Once this has been communicated to staff it is likely that any employee who could genuinely make it into the office will start finding a way to make it to work.

Flexible working is another strategy. You could try and make arrangements for your employees to work from home or adapt your start and finish times.

Q. I could not open the office or site (workplace) because of the bad weather. Can I still require employees to take annual leave or expect them to take a day unpaid?

No. If you decide that you cannot open the office, your employees must be paid in full as you are stopping them from attending work on that day. If you do not pay the employee, they could sue for breach of contract or unlawful deduction from wages.

Q. An employee missed work because their child's school closed. What are the implications at work?

This has been an issue for many businesses due to the fact that many schools are often shut as a result of snow. Whether time off is paid or unpaid will depend on the employer's ‘Time Off for Dependents' Policy and any previous action taken by the employer which could set a precedent.

Under employment legislation, employees have the right to take unpaid time off to manage emergency situations regarding their dependents. When school closures are announced only that morning, this may constitute an emergency situation and employees will be legally protected should they choose to stay at home to care for their children due to this unexpected disruption.

Remember, disruption to the employer cannot be taken into account when refusing or granting time off.

The key is to be transparent and consistent with your employees before and during the event. Advise your employees what your policy is and give them plenty of advanced warning of the procedure that will apply in your workplace if that scenario arises.

Q. What are the Health & Safety implications of the bad weather that I should consider?

Employers should take a balanced approach with their employees. You should encourage your employees to get into work in the safest way possible, however, not force them into a situation where they believe that they have to travel, against government advice, or face disciplinary action.

If an employee believes that they are forced into work by you, you could face a liability claim should an accident occur. You could consider flexible working practices such as flexible working hours or working from home. Your adverse weather policy should clearly communicate the procedures for employees to follow and can help minimise the disruption caused to your business.

Q. Some of my employees are resentful of those who didn't make it into work. Do I have to give them an extra day off in lieu?

You do not have to give an employee who made it into work an extra day off in lieu or a financial reward.

However, you should recognise the effort of those employees who did make it to the office and let them know that their efforts have not gone unnoticed by management.

For more information on Health & Safety and HR issues, call Tim Price at Park City today on tel: 0800 542 7550.

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