Extreme weather impacts employers

Storms Dudley and Eunice battered the UK last week and served as a stark reminder to employers of the importance of having adverse weather policies in place. The Met Office issued a rare red weather warning for the South of England and Wales, whilst most other areas suffered the implications of an amber and yellow warning.

The storms saw winds of over 100mph, causing extreme flooding, damage to homes, road blockages and power cuts. Transport services were suspended and schools were closed, disrupting organisations’ abilities to operate and employees’ abilities to get to work. Businesses which were not adequately prepared to manage their employees through such situations faced significant difficulties, particularly with understanding their obligations. However, lessons can be learned to ensure appropriate plans are in place should similar conditions arise in the future.

Weather conditions, or the aftereffects of extreme weather, can lead to the complete closure of the workplace or separate office locations. Unless there is a contractual right to be placed on unpaid lay off, staff are entitled to be paid in full for any hours they would have worked had the workplace been open. If the organisation chooses to open later or close earlier because of the weather conditions, employees are also entitled to be paid for this time even though they have carried out less work than normal. If there is not an existing shortage of work clause in the handbook (which can be relied upon in these situations) it is beneficial to put one in place.

Employees are expected to make every reasonable effort to get to work, even if they are unable to arrive on time, unless they are notified in advance that they should not travel to work. Lateness does not have to be paid for, as normal, although organisations may wish to come to an agreement with the employee that they will make up the time lost, to ensure their pay is not docked.

Where staff are unable to make it in to work and their workplace is open for business, they are not entitled to be paid unless their contract says otherwise. This is a harsh stance to take, however, as the absence isn’t due to their actions and is likely to be because of travel or safety reasons. There are options that can be considered by the organisation. The first is to consider allowing employees to take short-notice annual leave for this period, to ensure they are still receiving full pay, although they will use up some of their holiday entitlement. Other options include using banked time off in lieu (TOIL) hours or making up the time at a later date.

Allowing staff to work from home during periods of bad weather can allow them to continue working and receiving their normal salary despite workplace closure. Putting plans in place to allow for this in advance will help should the time come, such as transitioning staff from desktop to laptop computers, and asking them to take them home should the forecast be very bad. Doing so also minimises disruption to business operation, so can be a win-win solution for all parties.

If the workplace remains open and the employee can travel to work, there may be circumstances where the employee is absent from work because their childcare arrangements have been disrupted by the weather. Employees have a statutory right to a reasonable amount of time off to deal with emergency situations involving dependants and this will cover the breakdown in care arrangements. This time off is usually unpaid, although this will depend on the organisation’s policy.

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