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A guide to managing your people during adverse weather

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For business leaders adverse weather can be an unwelcome headache as it causes major disruption to businesses by affecting the ability of staff to get to work. What should you do when faced with this?

Paying employees

The first question on most employer’s minds is whether they are obliged to pay employees if they cannot make it into work. The answer; employees are not automatically entitled to be paid unless their employment contract expressly contains a provision entitling them to be paid on such occasions as bad weather.



That said, it is advisable for employers to consider the advantages of paying employees. Deducting pay may harm morale and result in reduced productivity; not a great position to be in during most businesses’ busiest time of the year. You could offer employees alternative working arrangements, such as home working or flexible hours. These arrangements will seek to maintain staff morale and productivity and reduce any resentment amongst colleagues who do manage to find a way in to work. 

In some cases it may not be suitable, or safe, to keep your workplace open. In the event of a workplace closure, employees with contractually guaranteed hours or salary will be entitled to receive payment during the closure. 

Be mindful that employees have a statutory right to take time off where there is an unexpected disruption to the arrangements made to care for a child. If a school closure is at short notice, the situation could be deemed to be an emergency. Employees would be entitled to take the day off. Whether leave is paid is at the discretion of the employer.

Falsely blaming the weather

Some employees may see the bad weather as an opportunity to call in sick, in the hope of claiming sick pay. This could lead to a breakdown in trust, as well as resentment among more honest colleagues. Good practice would be for employers to issue a reminder to employees that they could be subject to disciplinary action if they are found to be abusing the system. It is also advisable, when weather conditions have suitably improved, for you to let employees know that any further time off will need to be taken as holiday. Once this has been communicated, you may find that employees miraculously start finding ways to get to work.

Policies

Putting in place a clear adverse weather policy (or amending your current absence policy to cover such instances) will let employees know what you expect of them when severe weather hits. It should contain guidance about potential workplace closures, disruptions to public transport, working from home and flexible working, whether employees will be paid, when employees might be subject to disciplinary action and whom employees should contact once they know they will be unable to make it in.

Finally...

With occurrences of severe weather on the rise, it is always better to be prepared. Consider your options well in advance, analyse potential risks to your business and formulate a strategy to deal with them. Publicise all decisions internally before any likely period of disruption to ensure everyone is aware of their responsibilities. If you plan for the worst, you will be in a better position to deal with any minor disruptions too and are more likely to retain a cooperative and happy workforce.

Chris Cook

By Chris Cook

Chris is a partner and head of employment at SA Law

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