02 March 2018
The UK is currently embroiled in a snowy battle with the “Beast from the East”. Although many people are excited at the rare opportunity to build a snowman, extreme weather can be anything but brrrilliant for employers.
The main question is: what to do when staff cannot make it into work?
Snow storm Emma is already causing severe transport problems. The rail network has been particularly badly affected, with commuters experiencing severe delays and cancelled services. Many commuters may struggle to start their cars, and those who do get going are getting caught out by road closures and delays.
Contrary to popular belief, employers are not obliged to pay employees who fail to make it to work – even where this is due to factors outside their control, like Storm Emma. However, it is important to be aware that previous, informal approaches to extreme weather may be considered “custom and practice” by your staff. It is crucial to communicate with workers and set down expectations as soon as possible.
Also, taking a flexible approach and paying staff who were genuinely unable to make it to work can boost morale and productivity. So, taking a page from Disney’s Frozen and “letting it go” can actually be an opportunity for employers to improve employee engagement.
Another option is to suggest that employees work flexibly from home. This may allow the business to maintain its operations as much as possible. However, employers cannot require workers to work from home when this is not agreed in their contracts. There are also health and safety implications to consider, as an employee’s home may not be suitably adapted for home working, so advanced preparation for such events is worth thinking about.
Additionally, where individuals are concerned about getting into work, employers may suggest they take the time as annual leave. Given that employers are not usually required to pay workers when they fail to get to work, employees may prefer to take the day as paid leave.
However, employers need to be mindful that they cannot require employees to take specific days as annual leave unless they give the correct notice. As a minimum, the notice must be double the length of the leave. For example, one snow day would require at least two days’ notice in advance. There may also be longer notice requirements set out in the individual’s contract and, if so, the employer must adhere to these. Not so useful if the weather forecasting is not spot on, as Michael Fish is testimony to when he failed to predict the 1987!
Finally, employers should also be aware that staff have a statutory right to reasonable time off for dependants. This time off is often used to deal with unexpected issues with childcare arrangements, and so can be very helpful when staff are faced with school closures due to severe weather. This time off is usually unpaid, but if the employer’s policy provides for paid time off, this must be followed. When taking time off for dependants, employees must tell their employer the reason and likely length of the absence as soon as possible.
Given the regularity with which we seem to grind to a halt due to weather in recent years, employers may wish to consider implementing a policy which addresses travel disruptions. This policy could deal with travel disruptions generally as well as disruption caused by severe weather and strikes.
 The BBC reports that Southeastern alone has cancelled over 100 services. BA has also cancelled 60 short haul flights, according to the BBC