For the second time in six months, employers are faced with the possibility of weather related absenteeism of their staff. Even though October’s Storm Ophelia posed many questions about weather related absence, and whether employees should be paid, we’re entering another grey area this week as the ‘Beast from the East’ (or the much less cheesy Storm Emma) takes hold. One thing we have learned though, is that communication is key, and so the sooner employers can establish a plan with their employees, the better.
First things first: from a legal standpoint, there is no provision in law to pay an employee who does not come into work due to adverse weather conditions. Furthermore, there is no provision in law to pay employees when an employer decides not to operate due to those weather conditions. In fact, most standard contracts of employment have a provision for ‘lay off’ where an employer, due to circumstances beyond their control is unable to maintain an employee in full time employment. This is normally reserved for longer term episodes, but the principles apply in adverse weather conditions too.
However, while there is no legal obligation to pay employees who may not be able to work, there is value in employers adopting a common-sense approach in this regard. Health and Safety is paramount over the coming days and an employer’s duty of care towards the health and welfare of their employees shouldn’t be understated. This is not just about employee’s safety getting to work, but their ability to get home during what may be worsening conditions, as well as the stress and anxiety that the whole experience and uncertainty may cause.
My advice over the coming days is as follows:
• Communicate early- even if it is just to say that you will await further instruction, at least employees will know it is on your radar.
• Take each scenario on a case by case basis. Employees travelling further distances, or field-based staff will need more consideration.
• Prepare to be flexible: Allow employees to work from home if possible, or if not, encourage them to start a little later and leave earlier when conditions might be easier.
• Don’t underestimate how far some goodwill will go. A reasonable and practical solution to such a scenario is what will stand to employers long term, as employees value being treated fairly with an appreciation for their welfare.