After a wet Christmas and mild New Year, a cold snap is hitting the country once more, with temperatures predicted to reach as low as -10 and snow forecast to fall in most areas of the UK.
Inevitably, this situation will result in travel disruption and employees who are unable, or unwilling, to get into work.
While you might find that some staff go to great lengths to get into the office despite the cold and a journey of several hours, others may seize the opportunity to have a duvet day. So how can you best deal with this situation? Here are answers to some common questions:
1. Must I pay my employees if they fail to make it into work?
This response depends on whether the employees concerned have a contractual right to be paid in these circumstances. Look at the terms of their employment contracts, any policies that you may have and any customs or practices that might have developed over time.
What approach have you taken previously in relation to severe adverse weather conditions or disruption caused by train strikes? There is an argument that you should be consistent in your approach.
In the absence of any such contractual rights, the employees concerned are not entitled to be paid. Therefore, you could request that they take this time away from the office as part of their annual leave entitlement, or as unpaid leave.
2. Can I choose to pay my employees anyway?
Absolutely. You may decide to pay your employees even if they don’t make it into work. The positive morale and good publicity generated from this additional benefit may justify the inevitable cost. It may also deter staff from being tempted to call in sick – and instead they may even make more of an effort to come in.
Employers can also choose to treat workers on a ‘case-by-case’ basis. However, should you decide to tackle the issue in this way, do bear in mind that an employee may try to claim that this approach is discriminatory – for instance, if you pay your full-time staff who didn’t come in to work, but withhold pay from your part-time staff.
As a result, it is far safer and better practice to treat all personnel consistently.
3. How can I prepare for any future disruption?
This latest bout of bad weather won’t be the last. There is no doubt that, at some point in the future, we will face transport disruption again due to bad weather or strikes. But prevention is better than cure, so be ready:
- Think of ways around the disruption – arrange lift-shares for employees or provide taxis to collect them
- Be flexible – give workers the capability to work from home or allow alternative working patterns
- Implement a policy that clearly sets out what will happen should these kinds of circumstances arise. Will staff be paid? Will it count as annual leave?
- Put reporting requirements in place to ensure that staff notify you promptly if they cannot get into work
- Devise contingency plans to ensure that your business can function if a large number of staff are absent at any one time.
Susan Evans is a partner at law firm, Lester Aldridge.