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Managing the effects of adverse weather as an employer

View profile for Molly Mackay
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This month has brought about the sudden change of season, with increased rainfall, lower temperatures and dark mornings. The arrival of Storm Babet, which prompted the Met Office to issue a rare red weather warning and now Storm Ciaran, has highlighted how quickly drastic changes to the weather can take place.

It's these events that has prompted this article, in which we examine how employers should tackle the issue of adverse weather when it affects employees’ ability to get to work, as well as offering tips looking forward to the winter, which could be implemented in the workplace. 

What are the potential issues?

Adverse weather can take a number of forms, however perhaps the most disruptive in recent years would be that of heavy snow and ice, or heavy rainfall, that have caused public transport and/or roads to be inaccessible or unsafe. 

This means that some employees have issues getting to work safely or at all, childcare arrangements are disrupted when schools are forced to close or some are simply unable to perform their job due to the weather conditions. 

What is the position on pay? 

The first port of call when assessing the position on pay is to consult the employee’s contract of employment. If the issue is covered in the policy, this should also be consulted. However, if not mentioned, there is unlikely to be a duty to pay an employee if they’re unable to get to work, as their contract of employment is not being completed. 

However, there are arguable reasons in favour of paying employees in these situations. For example, it can help to boost morale and maintain, or even improve, employee relations. In addition, it could prevent an alternative scenario where employees inappropriately use their sick leave allowance – this could damage relationships and trust between employer and employee. 

As another solution, employers could ask employees to take holiday if they are unable to get to work. Employers can also tell employees to use holiday, if the disruption is known about in advance for example, however they must give employees twice the notice as the holiday they would like them to take. 

Example: If an employer wants staff to take two days of holiday, they must give four days’ notice. 

This may of course not be appropriate where extreme weather happens suddenly, but can be considered as an option when suitable. 

What can employers do to assist employees?

There are a number of steps that an employer can take to support employees, when severe weather affects their ability to perform their role safely. These could include:

  1. Home and remote working – where an employee is unable to access the office or usual place of work, where possible they could work from home or another safe location. 
  2. Late starts – employees could be permitted to start work later, if the conditions are expected to improve throughout the day.
  3. Flexibility – hours could be adjusted to support employees, by making up the time.
  4. Childcare arrangements – employees do have the right to take a ‘reasonable’ amount of time off because of unexpected disruption to care arrangements for dependents. Employers should not subject the employee to any detriment for needing to take time off for their dependents and cannot force them to take annual leave. 
  5. Communication – it will be crucial for employers to keep in touch regularly with their employees and be consistent in their approach towards everyone. That being said, keeping each individual’s circumstances in mind will be imperative. 

The onset of adverse weather should not be a cause of immediate concern for employers as with some consideration and adjustments, they will be able to successfully support employees and manage continuation of working safely.

Ultimately, preparation is key, so having an adverse travel and weather policy in place would be our number one top tip!