Storm Emma, coupled with the ‘Beast from the East’, recently caused unseasonably snowy, cold and generally untraversable conditions across much of the UK. Red weather warnings meant many people were confined to their homes, and the Army was drafted in to help rescue travellers stranded in their cars and ensure the emergency services could reach their places of work.
For many workplaces, though, the extreme weather also inevitably meant many employees weren’t able to get into the office. For a country that usually enjoys clement weather conditions, HR managers may not have much experience in dealing with staff calling in for a ‘snow day’. But with the winters likely to worsen over the coming years, it would certainly be wise for businesses to have bad weather policies and procedures in place.
This policy should include guidance about what employees should do if they’re struggling to travel into work (be it on the roads or public transport) and who to contact, whether working from home or flexibly would be an option, if they will be paid if they miss work and when employees might be subject to disciplinary action. These policies should be well-publicised ahead of any expected bad weather and easily available to read.
Employees are not automatically entitled to pay unless their contract specifically contains a relevant provision. However, it would generally be advisable for employers to consider paying staff if they can’t work because of extreme weather conditions. Failing to pay for these missed days can have a real impact on morale and can feel unfair – especially when the reasons behind the no-show are out of employees’ control. An office closure will also mean staff with contractually guaranteed hours or salary will be entitled to be paid during this time.
Parents have a statutory right to take time off where there is unexpected disruption to the arrangements made to care for a child. If a school closure takes place at short notice, the situation could be deemed an emergency. However, whether leave is paid is at the discretion of the employer.
With bad weather, it’s inevitable that unfortunately you will also see some members of staff trying to take advantage of the situation, claiming they can’t get into work or taking sick days. Good practice would be for employers to remind staff they could be subject to disciplinary action if they are found to be abusing the system. They can then can be informed that any extra days off should be taken as holiday – this will usually prompt individuals to come back into the office!
Generally, when the bad weather hits, its advisable for employers and HR departments to use common sense and, thankfully, lots of businesses now have the technology infrastructure to allow people to work from home.
As with many situations, having a clear and concise plan in place before the first flakes of snow start falling is the best option. Plan for the worst – office closures and employees struggling to make it in for a couple of days – and any minor disruptions will be easy to cope with.
A snow day isn’t so much of a rarity in the UK any more, and with plenty more tough winters to come, it’s essential HR departments are adequately prepared – with snow shovels too if needed.
Chris Cook is a partner and head of employment and data protection at SA Law