I’m hoping we’ve seen the last of the really bad weather until next winter, but, just in case, it’s worth thinking about how employee absence in bad weather affects your business – and what your remedies might be. In the UK we have to hope for the best whilst preparing for the worst – at least as far as our climate is concerned!
Some key points:
- Employees are not automatically entitled to pay if unable to get to work because of travel disruption (unless the travel itself is constituted as working time or in some situations where the employer provides the transport). However, you may have contractual obligations towards your workforce and don’t forget that custom and practice can play a part. Some businesses have discretionary arrangements in place. Make sure your staff know what the score is by putting the arrangements in the staff handbook!
- Flexibility – a flexible approach to matters such as working hours and location may be the most effective way of managing employee absence. The way in which you deal with travel disruption and bad weather problems may an opportunity for you to enhance staff morale and productivity. For example – is there opportunity to work from home? What about alternative working patterns? What arrangements can you have for cover at short notice?
- Information technology can be useful in minimising the effect on the business of a number of employees being absent from work.
- A fair approach is a great HR tool! Even if your business is damaged by the effects of absent workers, you should still ensure that any measures you take are carried out according to proper and fair procedure. This will help maintain good, fair and consistent employment relations and help prevent complaints to employment tribunals.
- Plan ahead. Don’t wait till it happens! Review your policy and think about how you handle future scenarios. It would be best to put an ‘adverse weather’ or ‘journey into work’ policy into place that deals with the steps employees are required to take to try to get into work on time and how the business will continue if they cannot. You need to decide how to deal with lateness and what will happen with regard to pay. Having such a policy should mean there is much less scope for confusion and disagreement.
- What if some staff manage to get into work but others cannot? Nowadays many employees live at some distance from the workplace and whether or not they can get to work depends upon location and available mode of transport. I have to say that the degree of determination on the part of the individual also plays a part! If you operate a policy of still paying the staff if their absence was unavoidable, you will also need to lay down some guidelines on how you intend to apply this policy. Paying workers who stay at home may lead to frustration on the part of those who struggled in, especially if they have to cover for the absentees! A system of small bonus payments for extra responsibility may work well. Or some employers have a system of ‘inclement weather’ pay – where if an employee can’t work because of the weather conditions, they receive a lesser amount of pay. You’ll need to check that your policies are non-discriminatory, especially where disabled employees are concerned.
- What happens if the schools are closed and parents cannot come to work? In emergency situations an employee is entitled to take unpaid time off to look after dependants, although this would not normally apply to a situation where the employee was required to look after their children as a result of not having any childcare arrangements. In extreme weather conditions this could be seen as an emergency situation. It’s important to point out that this is Time Off for Dependants and as such an employee is entitled to as much unpaid time off as a tribunal decides is reasonable to make alternative arrangements for childcare. In other words, the right to time off may vary as per each individual’s circumstances. Whilst some employers may offer this as holiday that is only with agreement from the employee and only if the employer wants to offer/accept it.
- Involve your employees. It’s usually a good idea to get your employees ‘on side’! Ask them to think about how they would cope with bad weather and use the feedback in implementing your policy. Make sure everyone knows the procedures for getting in touch and ask them always to let you know how their absence will affect their workload. Make them feel it’s a team effort!
There’s no single perfect answer, so do share with me the strategies that have worked for you!