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Cath Everett

Sift Media

Freelance journalist and former editor of HRZone

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Legal Insight: How not to slip up in the snow

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Forecasters are warning that adverse weather conditions in the UK could last until the end of the month, giving employers potential headaches as staff struggle to make it into work.

Three inches of snow led to 600 flights being grounded at Heathrow over the weekend, disrupting the plans of up to 18,000 travellers.
 
The airport, which is facing questions as to why half of all flights were cancelled hours after the snowing had stopped, resumed normal flight schedules this morning. But it has warned that dealing with the backlog of cancellations will take time.
 
An airport spokesman told the Daily Mail: "Heathrow’s usual flight schedule will operate. There may still be some cancellations as a result of today’s disruption with aircraft and crew needing to be repositioned. Passengers should check the status of their flight before travelling."
 
Steven Keates, a forecaster at the Met Office, told the Daily Telegraph, meanwhile, that it would remain “relatively settled” but “cold” in most parts of England and Wales for the rest of the week, with the biggest risk being hard overnight frost and freezing fog.
 
“It looks as if this cold snap will last two or three weeks and this weather system looks as though it will erode from the west in the second half of February,” he added.
 
As a result, Clare Cruise, an employment lawyer at Bristows, has got her skates on and put together answers to some common questions about how best to deal with the potential repercussions of the situation:
 
1. Are employees obliged to attend work when weather conditions are severe?
 
Under their contracts of employment, employees are obliged to attend work unless on authorised leave such as sick or holiday leave or maternity, paternity, adoption or parental leave. This means that, if they simply fail to attend the office because of severe weather conditions, you may have the option to treat the absence as unauthorised unpaid leave. 

2. What action can I take to minimise the chaos caused by severe weather?
 
It is advisable to introduce a clear policy so that employees know what they are expected to do during severe weather conditions. This policy could cover alternative ways of dealing with the situation such as:
  • allowing employees to work from home which, with the help of mobile devices such as Blackberrys and/or remote access via PCs or laptops
  • paying staff as normal and asking them to make the time up later·
  • enabling workers to take a day’s annual leave or unpaid leave.
     
3. Do I have to permit personnel to time off to care for their children if schools are shut?
 
Many parents have to take time off work to look after children if schools are shut due to bad weather. Employees have a statutory right to take a reasonable amount of unpaid time off work to deal with an unexpected disruption, termination or breakdown of arrangements for the care of a dependent. They are also are protected from suffering any detriment if they have to take time off in such situations.
 
4. What should we do about the employees who do make it into work?
 
You may find that staff who have battled into work resent having to work extra hard to cover for those who have not managed to get in and find themselves doing tasks that are outside of their normal day-to-day activities.
 
You may want to reward their efforts to keep up morale. But you should also consider sending them home early if bad weather could lead to dangerous travel conditions.
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Cath Everett

Freelance journalist and former editor of HRZone

Read more from Cath Everett
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