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What are my options if employees can not come to work due to adverse weather conditions?
The UK has seen its fair share of adverse weather already this year – severe floods have caused havoc in various parts of the country; Storms Gertrude, Henry and Imogen have battered the country over the last three weeks alone and, with another cold snap forecast, many businesses will be faced with the prospect of a fall in productivity due to absenteeism or employees being unable to complete work due to adverse weather conditions.
As weather conditions throughout the country become increasingly difficult to predict, many employers have been turning to us for advice. We advise businesses to ensure they have an Adverse Weather and Travel Disruption Policy in place which documents the procedure its wants its staff to follow when adverse weather is forecast. Employees should be reminded of the provisions set out in that policy and employers must ensure they implement them consistently.
A common enquiry we receive is whether employers must pay employees who cannot get into work due to bad weather. The answer depends on a combination of rights: the right not to suffer an unlawful deduction from wages, and the employee’s express and implied contractual rights.
If an employer’s position is that deductions should be made, an express clause should be incorporated into the contract of employment. Often, there is no such clause, and the legal position becomes murky. However, employers should be mindful of the detrimental impact upon staff morale if pay is deducted, together with the potential for abuse of sick leave and bad publicity. Conversely, there is the potential for resentment caused to those employees who manage the commute to work and employers should ensure the effort they have made is recognised in some way.
From a practical point of view, if the business remains operational but employees are unable to make it to work due to the poor weather conditions, there are a number of potential options available which employers may consider implementing including:
- Homeworking or community-based working (where appropriate) or allowing employees to work from an alternative place of work if one exists.
- Allowing employees to come in late, paying them only for their hours of attendance, or making up their hours at the end of the day.
- Paying employees as normal and allowing them to make up lost time at a later date.
- Employees could also be offered paid annual leave, unpaid time off to care for dependants (particularly if schools or nurseries are closed) or time-limited paid leave.
Employers should also be aware of their Health and Safety obligations and if the business cannot be safely run then the employer should close for the day and send staff home.