The extreme weather conditions of the past few days have had a massive impact on UK businesses. There have been reports that North West businesses could have lost as much as £50 million based on employee absenteeism caused by this week's snow fall.

 

Advice for employers

  • A practical and common sense approach should be taken by employers.
  • Where possible, allow employees who are struggling to get into work to work from home. If employers haven't already done so, now would be an appropriate time for employers to look at their IT solutions and contingency plans for situations such as this. Working remotely using the internet, blackberries and mobile phones should be an option for many employees who are unable to get into work.
  • Provide employees with as much information as possible about weather conditions and travel disruptions.
  • Forcing employees to come into work when it is unsafe would not be wise. Alternatives should be exhausted where possible. In extreme circumstances it could be a health and safety issues for employers, for example, when the police have advised motorists not to travel unless essential.

The legal position – to pay or not to pay

  • If employees are unable to carry out the work they are paid to do, employers do not have to pay them. Employers should check the contract of employment and any relevant policies to check that there are no separate contractual provisions to this basic position.
  • Employers may wish to exercise their discretion and pay employees who are genuinely unable to attend work because of the adverse weather. Employers should be careful to exercise their discretion in a fair and non-discriminatory way.
  • Strictly speaking, employers can cut pay if employees work reduced hours due to the weather. Staff morale should however be considered.
  • Employees have a statutory right to unpaid time off work to care for dependants. With many schools and nurseries closing due to the poor conditions, employees are faced with a difficult position and no childcare provisions. Employees have the right to take a "reasonable" amount of unpaid time off work to take "necessary" action to deal with particular situations affecting their dependants. Employees should be seeking alternative childcare arrangements and employers are within their right to reduce pay accordingly.
  • It may be more practical for employees to take emergency holiday to cover any time off during this period. Alternatively employees could be asked to make the time up by working extended hours at another time.

In summary

Contingency plans should be utilised at this time. If there are no contingency plans in place it would be sensible to start drafting now! After a bad year in 2009, staff morale has to be a factor in deciding how to deal with the bad weather, however, employers understandably cannot afford to pay non-working employees indefinitely during the 'big freeze'. Compromises such as working from home, emergency leave, or making the time up should be considered.