Are you battling with the Beast from the East?

Blizzards and icy winds have swept in from Siberia, with temperatures plummeting and a blanket of snow settling over most of the country. For many HR managers, the Beast from the East may feel like a waking nightmare, causing childcare and travel disruption, and increasing absences. Here is our employment law guide to lead you through the storm.

Preparation

Re-circulate your adverse weather policy as soon as you can. If you don’t have such a policy, this weather should be all the encouragement you need to put one in place. In the meantime, it is a good idea to circulate an email to your workforce explaining what is expected of them in such weather conditions and what your requirements are e.g. is remote working allowed, if so does this require authorisation from line managers, etc. Importantly, be transparent on what will happen to your employees’ pay if they stay away from work.

Flexibility

Some of your employees will be more adversely affected by this weather than others. Childcare arrangements may fall through and doggy-day-care may be cancelled. Remember that if an emergency childcare situation arises, parents have an absolute right to unpaid reasonable time off to care for their dependants. Disabled employees may find travel the most difficult, so try to be accommodating where you can. For all employees, this weather is likely to be distracting and stressful, so taking a reasonable approach and doing your best to accommodate difficulties is likely to boost morale in your workforce.

Fairness

These weather conditions are challenging for everyone, so make sure you treat your employees reasonably and fairly. You need to be mindful of your employees’ health and safety when making contingency plans. Employees should not be expected to take unnecessary risks to make it to their workplace. If the Employee reasonably believes that travelling to work would put them in serious or imminent danger, the Employee should not be treated less favourably as a result of this decision. Unfair treatment could lead to disgruntled employees with potential claims against your business so take a reasonable stance.

However, if you become suspicious that an employee is being disingenuous, or abusing your policy on adverse weather, this may constitute misconduct. In such cases you can consider disciplinary proceedings.

Awareness

Be aware of your legal obligations as an employer, especially regarding your employees’ pay. You are not obliged to pay employees who do not make it to work due to snow and travel disruption. However, how you deal with their pay in practice is up to you, with a number of options available:

  • Explain to the employee that they will not be paid for this time. It is a good idea to offer the employee the opportunity to work from home in such cases, and also to be transparent with a clear policy in place stating that employees will not be paid for such absences.
  • Pay the employee for the absence, but require that they make up the hours.
  • Ask the employee to take the snow day from their holiday entitlement (which therefore will be paid).
  • Pay the employee for this time, but make clear this is being done on a discretionary basis (to avoid creating a contractual obligation to pay in future).

With spring around the corner, hopefully the Beast from the East will be the last of this winter’s snow. However, make sure you keep good records of ‘snow days’ taken by employees, and how their pay has been dealt with.

This guide is for general information and interest only and should not be relied upon as providing specific legal advice. If you require any further information about the issues raised in this article please contact the author or call 0207 404 0606 and ask to speak to your usual Goodman Derrick contact.