Four ways to winterproof your business (and some free HR downloads to help)

  • HR Policies Documentation
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Peninsula Team, Peninsula Team

(Last updated )

Now we’re in the thick of winter, there are certain risk factors that might threaten to ice over your operations.

Bad weather, seasonal mood disorders, Secret Santa and Christmas party escapades can all lead to problems if you’re not prepared. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to manage these issues and prevent staff relations from turning frosty.

To give yourself a safe and stress-free end to the year, here are some HR and Health & Safety winterproofing tips.

Prepare for severe weather

During the winter season, weather conditions can be severe – and in some cases, cause serious disruption at work. If the weather gets bad enough, you may encounter issues like:

  • Staff being unable to travel to work (either because travelling is dangerous or they’ve found themselves snowed in).
  • Staff being unable to carry out their usual jobs safely (i.e. they usually work outside and bad weather puts them at risk).
  • Staff childcare arrangements falling through (if their child’s school or nursery has to close because of bad weather).
  • Having to close your business temporarily (for example, if flooding or snow has made your workplace unsafe to work in).

If you choose to stay open, it might be unreasonable to expect staff to travel to work if they feel that doing so will be risking their safety. And you do have a duty of care.

In these cases, a happy medium might be to consider agreeing for your staff to work from home, take annual leave, or make up the time at a later date.

And if you want staff to come to work but there are risks to them while they’re working, you should look at ways to remove or reduce these risks. Whether that’s through offering personal protective equipment (PPE) or moving to a different location (if possible).

PPE should be a last resort. So, other options could involve rescheduling the work and providing facilities where staff can warm up and get hot drinks. Also, making sure your staff are getting regular rest breaks.

If you have to close your business, you would usually have to continue paying staff on full pay.

Even if your contracts allow you to make unpaid lay offs, you would still need to provide guaranteed pay. This is a maximum of £35 a day for five days in any three-month period (and a maximum of £175 in total). Or, if your staff earn below £35 a day, it would be their normal daily rate. For staff who work part time, you would have work out their pay in proportion to their hours.

To help set expectations in advance, it’s good to have a severe weather policy that outlines your protocol for when severe weather strikes.

This gives you a consistent process to follow whenever the unexpected happens. It also clears things up for staff when it comes to lay off rules, pay, who to contact if they can’t get into work, and working from home arrangements. Just tap below to download a free sample:

Offer support to employees who might struggle with SAD

It’s part of your duty of care to support staff wellbeing. And when Mind reports that one in four people will experience a mental health problem at some point in their lives, it’s important to have the support available should your staff ever need it.

Around winter, many people struggle with seasonal affective disorder (SAD). You may also hear this called a type of “winter depression”. This is because symptoms usually show up a lot worse during winter.

SAD relates to a change in the seasons and can cause low mood, tiredness, and difficulty concentrating. So, if your staff are experiencing symptoms, they might struggle to perform at work.

Ways you can help affected staff might be to:

  • Amend absence trigger points – so, you exclude employees from your absence trigger point system if they’re off work for mental-health related reasons.
  • Reduce performance targets or job responsibilities.
  • Offer an employee assistance programme (EAP) – this is a third-party wellbeing service businesses can offer to employees, so they can access free wellbeing support from experts, like counselling.
  • Introduce mental health first aiders – to have people on the look out for any signs that staff are struggling, so they can step in to offer support. This also gives employees someone to go to if they need mental health support, which may feel easier than approaching their manager.

There’s a lot of stigma around mental health, which is why so many don’t speak up. But you can help to break that stigma and signpost your employees to relevant support by having an employee wellbeing policy. This gives you a step-by-step process to help you manage employees who may be struggling with their mental health at work. Just tap below to download a free sample:

Set boundaries around gift-giving

In the run to Christmas, gift-giving is a nice gesture to get everyone into the festive spirit. You might even have a Secret Santa already lined up. But while handing out gifts is nice, it’s important to make sure there are still rules to follow when it happens at work.

For example, your staff should take care to avoid any NSFW gifts (so anything sexually suggestive like lingerie is a big no). They should also avoid any gifts that might relate to a colleague’s personal characteristic – especially their religion or appearance.

Even buying someone deodorant could be a disaster if it’s taken the wrong way. And you don’t want to end up with bullying allegations or even discrimination claims on your hands.

So, make sure your staff understand what is and isn’t appropriate for Secret Santa. If in doubt, it’s best to err on the side of caution. (You could even send out suggestions beforehand). You can learn more about how to set boundaries around gift-giving in our blog: Essential HR rules for a workplace Secret Santa.

Workplace gifts can also lend themselves to bribery accusations. Sometimes, just because of the timing or the person it’s from. So, if you’re sending or receiving any gifts from clients, make sure this is all above board in your contracts and you keep a register of all the gifts your staff either send or accept.

It’s best to cover your tracks just in case you find yourself facing an allegation of bribery – even if it wasn’t your intention.

Having an anti-bribery policy helps prevent the risk of any employees getting embroiled in a bribery accusation (whether by accident or not). It lays out what counts as a bribe and the consequences for staff who breach anti-bribery law. So, there’s no room for confusion. Just tap below to download a free sample:

Download a free anti-bribery and corruption policy

An anti-bribery policy sets out rules and regulations for how your employees can handle potential bribes. Having adequate procedure lessens any risks corruption carries on a business.

Set rules around work-related social events

The workplace Christmas party should be a fun way to sign off the year and a reward for everyone’s hard work. So, make sure you do in fact end the year on a positive note – and there’s no chance of inappropriate conduct spoiling things.

Ahead of your Christmas party, remind employees that your usual disciplinary and behavioural expectations still apply.

At parties where staff are drinking alcohol and there are more relaxed professional boundaries, there’s more risk of issues happening.

Whether that’s a drunk employee having an argument with their manager or someone inappropriately touching a colleague. Coming into work the next day would be more than just a little bit awkward in those situations. And you don’t want to sign off the year with a dismissal for gross misconduct.

To set expectations ahead of your work event, here’s a free template letter you can use to send to your staff:

Download a free sample letter to send ahead of work-related social events

It’s easy to forget boundaries and professional conduct at social events. So if it’s time to invite your staff to a festive party, it’s a good opportunity to set important rules around behaviour.

And if you need any further HR or Health & Safety advice this winter, just tap below to book in for a free call with an adviser.

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