Recent downpours put business practices in the spotlight

We may be in the middle of the school summer holidays but given the downpour experienced earlier this month you could be forgiven for believing we were in the height of winter. The large volume of rain that hit the UK caused significant problems for employers and staff alike, with rain affecting commuting time and floodwaters causing temporary road closures in some places.

In times of extreme weather employers can benefit from being able to rely on an extreme weather policy. These policies will typically outline that an employee is expected to attend work as per their contract of employment and should make every reasonable effort to do so. Policies will also often include confirmation of who to notify if individuals expect to be late to work, or if they will be unable to attend entirely, as well as how the organisation will treat absences of this nature.

Heavy rain and rising water levels caused significant problems for many public transport services, with floodwater leaving roads impassable in some places. Therefore, it is likely that many employees will have been unable to make it to work as a result and employers will have had a choice to make on how to proceed. Whilst there is no need to pay staff who are unable to make it work, employers may choose to relax their disciplinary procedures for unauthorised absences given the circumstances. Additionally some employers may have allowed staff the option to use a day’s annual leave in this situation in order to avoid any financial hardship.   

Alternatively, some employers may have enabled staff to work from home on a temporary basis if they were unable to make it into work. This is an example of flexible working and could have ensured staff were able to complete their normal work duties on time. However, whether this could have been facilitated or not will have depended on the type of organisation, the nature of the individual’s job role and their access to the equipment necessary for mobile working. 

Even if individuals were able to travel to work, there may have been circumstances in which they were prevented from doing so on account of having to attend to an emergency situation involving a dependant e.g. a breakdown in childcare arrangements. The likelihood of this occurring will have increased during the extreme weather and employers mustn’t treat staff any less favourably for exercising this right. 

For some organisations severe downpours may have resulted in business activities being suspended for a period of time. In these situations, unless there is a contractual right to be placed on lay-off, staff are entitled to be paid in full for any hours they would have worked had the workplace been open. Having said this, those who were able to place staff on lay-off should ensure individuals with at least 1 month’s service receive statutory guarantee pay of up to £29 per day for a maximum of 5 days within any 3 month period.  

Managing a workplace during times of extreme weather is never straightforward and it is important that a contingency plan is in place to account for any issues that arise. As a result, employers who have found themselves disadvantaged by the latest bout of wet weather should consider amending their business practices to guard against this in the future.

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