With rumours rife that winter 2013/2014 could be the worst since 1947, its time for employers to ensure they have contingency plans in place, so they are prepared to deal with any potential travel disruption and subsequent employee absenteeism that may ensue.

At this time of year it is especially important for employers to ensure they have clear  "adverse weather" or “journey into work” policies in place. These policies should outline the steps employees are required to take to try to get into work on time and explain how the business deals with lateness and what will happen with regards to pay if employees do not attend work. Having such a policy should mean there is less scope for confusion and disagreement, as long as it is communicated to all employees.

Employers should consider the following points when drafting such policies:

Pay, safety and staff morale

  • Employees are not legally entitled to receive pay unless they are ready and willing to work, so they are not entitled to pay if they are unable to get to work because of bad weather (unless there is a contractual right, the travel itself is constituted as working time or the employer provides the transport).
  • Employees should not feel pressured to risk their safety to get to work and employers should assess whether not paying employees would be in the best interests of their business in light of the impact it may have on staff morale where staff are genuinely unable to get to work.
  • Employers cannot usually withhold pay if they temporarily close their business premises at short notice because of unforeseen circumstances, such as heavy snowfall.
  • Employers need to decide what their policy is with regards to pay if employees do not attend work due to adverse weather conditions, and then apply their policy fairly and consistently. Some of the options with regards to employee pay and adverse weather conditions/journey into work include:
  • Pay will be discretionary where employees do not attend work due to travel disruption.
  • Any time off work due to adverse weather conditions will be unpaid.
  • Employees will be paid if they do not attend work but will be expected to make up the time at a later date.
  • Employees can take the time off as paid annual leave.
  • The employer can require the employee to take the time off as paid annual leave.
  • Where, for example, schools close, employees can request to take the time off as unpaid time off for dependents.

It is important that the employer’s policies are all consistent with each other and that where necessary rights, such as the right to make deductions from salary, are contractual and not just imposed unilaterally under a policy.

Practicalities

Employers should consider including the following practical points in adverse weather policies:

  • Encourage employees to plan ahead and consider alternative routes into work.
  • Consider offering flexible working, for example to enable employees to travel outside rush hour.
  • Consider offering remote & agile working, for example, encourage employees to use IT equipment to work from home or from an office closer to their home. 
  • Consider arranging virtual meetings, for example if it is not possible for an employee to attend a meeting in person, allow them to take part via telephone or Skype.
  • Require employees to get in touch with their line manager/HR if they are unable to get into work or are going to be delayed.
  • Make it clear that if an employee is not genuinely unavoidably absent or late due to the weather conditions, but is using this as an excuse, this could be a disciplinary matter.

Above all else, employers should ensure that their staff know the rules in advance of any adverse weather conditions and should treat all staff fairly and consistently when implementing their policies.