Snow joke for employers – companies urged to plan ahead for adverse weather

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Employers are being urged to plan ahead and avoid potential pitfalls as plunging temperatures bring on the prospect of snow.

Managing staff absences in adverse weather can be a challenge for employers, say employment specialists at leading national law firm Blake Morgan.

Employers should fully understand what the law says and the ‘dos’ and ‘don’ts’ before trying to manage snow-related absences.

Ideally, all employers should have an adverse weather policy, says Tim Forer, an employment barrister at Blake Morgan.

He said: “From the point of view of an employer, snow and adverse weather can turn into a nightmare if not properly managed.

“Snow-related absence raises several issues for employers, not least of which is the question, should employees be paid during such absence?

“Introducing a policy to cover unexpected disruptions of this nature is always helpful to avoid confusion and could save employers from a real headache.”

Tim has devised these helpful guidelines for employers:

  • Remember that unless the contract clearly states otherwise, employers are not technically obliged to pay employees for any time during which they do not attend work. Only employees who are ready, willing and available to work are entitled to be paid. 
  • Employees who are able to work effectively from home (or wherever else they happen to be stranded) should generally be paid.
  • Where flexible working arrangements are not feasible, docking pay for those who could not make it to work is not always a good idea. Employees may argue that it is an unlawful deduction of wages. The most prudent way to manage it is to treat the time off as paid annual leave.
  • Employers should always bear in mind their duty to ensure the health and safety of their employees. It is not advised to encourage employees to travel in treacherous conditions.
  • Employers should be sensitive to the needs of employees who have childcare obligations and should be conscious of those employees' rights to take a reasonable amount of unpaid time off to care for their dependents.
  • Unless an employer genuinely believes that an employee has been playing the system, it will usually be unwise to start a disciplinary process for a failure to attend work due to travel disruption. Employers considering this should always fully investigate the reason for the absence.
  • Employees should be treated consistently to avoid claims for discrimination.
  • Be flexible. An employer may want to allow flexible working hours to accommodate staff.  For example, allowing staff to start work late or leave early may be necessary in order for employees to deal with the adverse conditions. 

And Tim added: “Employers should consider putting together an adverse weather policy setting out the arrangements in place in relation to salary arrangements, home working and notification procedures.

“This will ensure consistency across the organisation and more certainty for all staff.”

Employers with any concerns about the payment or disciplining of employees, or any other weather-related employment enquiries, can contact a member of the Blake Morgan team by emailing info@blakemorgan.co.uk