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Snow excuses! Be prepared for the white stuff

Neil Tonks
hr

Cold air from the North Pole is set to hit the UK with heavy low-level snowfall and ice expected cause major travel disruptions and force many schools to close. Contributor Neil Tonks, Legislation Manager –  MHR

While the prospect of missing school to spend the day sledging or building a snowman may thrill young children, for working adults snow days can cause considerable upheaval which can have a knock-on effect for businesses. 

This can include workers unable to make the office due to the cancellation of public transport, having to re-arrange childcare for little ones and the general dilemma of whether to risk the commute in hazardous conditions. 

With the Met Office issuing warnings for the majority of the country over the course of the next few days, how can organisations maintain business continuity and productivity while taking into account the individual circumstances and needs of your workforce?

Treat individuals on a case by case basis
You as an employer may justifiably stop pay if employees can’t do the work they are expected to do. It is important to meet legal requirements if bad weather prevents employees from coming in, but they must be able to show attendance is genuinely unfeasible, if an employee does not attend, yet another who lives in the same area makes it in – questions must be asked. 

Most people will try their hardest to get to work, and previous research has shown that only 8 percent of people typically use bad weather as an excuse for not coming to work. This paints a picture of a workforce who only miss work if they have to, and who can be trusted to work from home or make up lost time if required.

Show empathy towards staff
By doing the right thing by your staff, they are likely to be more positive and continue to work hard when normal business is resumed. This relationship can be strengthened by helping parents who are struggling for childcare due to school and nursery closures. Usually this just means that businesses will need to allow a couple of days unpaid leave, which should be seen as reasonable by all involved – again saving money and offering a perceived benefit to working at your company, which is a great way to retain and attract the best talent.

Consider alternative working arrangements
For cases where it is obvious that some of your staff really cannot make it in – such as those coming from rural communities with difficult routes, work does not have to stop.

Having a contingency plan like allowing those employees to work from home is a fair compromise for all parties – there is no loss of continuity and employees do not lose pay or use holiday, so examples like this are a good compromise.

Recent studies indicate that around 79 percent of employees have worked from home during bad weather, which is evidence that continuity rates have been improved by modern mobile working.

Allowing employees to work from home is a great way to maintain productivity in circumstances like this as employees are not having to worry about their journey home from the office, or leaving early for the day which can cause more disruption.

Be proactive not reactive
The best businesses need to be proactive not reactive. Alternative methods of working or consistent agreements over bad weather protocol avoids profits being hit and missed deadlines. By writing guidelines in advance, alternatives can be offered, like employees agreeing to use annual leave at short notice, or them using any lieu days that employees have accrued. This is reasonable, offers flexibility and means any delayed work can be done in the days that would have been used as holiday later in the year.

Discuss your guidelines with staff
If there is a genuine need for it, you can enforce annual leave in some circumstances. However, this is usually difficult to do for short periods, as there are often notice periods to adhere to and employees might not be happy using up holiday time they had been saving for trips abroad or family days; causing unnecessary arguments and wasting manager’s time. A further consideration is the impact on staff satisfaction, or even staff retention further down the line, so a better approach would be to discuss guidelines and listen to the individual needs of staff, while emphasising the importance of getting into work as soon as possible.

To pay or not to pay?
Offering or enforcing holidays are often the best options, but it is important to be aware that the rules change if the office is closed all together. If your employees could and would have come into the office, pay cannot be stopped as it is seen as an employer, rather than employee issue, and the responsibility will be with you to get the workplace open as soon as possible. 

Employees are legally entitled to full pay under these circumstances; although a ‘lay off’ can be agreed, where they do not receive pay, but are not given any work either. If employees choose this option, they may still be entitled to receive Statutory Guarantee Pay (SGP) for a maximum of one working week for every three-month period. This represents another great compromise for the employer and employee, as workers effectively get extra holiday with some pay as a bonus, and employees lose less money while they are trying to resume services or waiting for severe weather to pass.

Transparency is important with this kind of arrangement as employees need to be contacted over the position of their lay-off period, and reducing pay to nil without an agreed lay-off period could lead to an employment tribunal, causing a headache for your business and it is therefore a reminder to make sure your management staff know what the law requires. 

In conclusion, Neil Tonks, says: “While adverse weather such as snow can cause unforeseen problems, these are often aggravated because organisations are ill-prepared to cope with the impact. 

“By putting in place a clear adverse weather policy, and openly discussing guidelines with employees, organisations can ensure they meet their legal obligations, treat employees fairly and consistently while taking steps to maintain productivity and minimise disruption.

“Heavy snow is not uncommon here in the UK, and heeding weather warnings from the Met Office should prompt organisations to prepare in advance and discuss contingency measures with staff.”

Top 5 tips for preventing snow from impacting your business 

  • Be mindful of individual circumstances
  • Know your legal obligations
  • Be fair, flexible and transparent with staff
  • Consider alternative working arrangements
  • Plan ahead

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