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Last week the UK was hit by the Beast from the East and Storm Emma, with temperatures as low as -10 degrees in some parts of England and Scotland! The unholy combination of high winds, snow and ice undoubtedly sent shockwaves throughout the nation, causing disruptions to the road and rail network, as well as flight cancellations. Many schools and commercial businesses closed their doors as a result, as employers grappled with the operational challenges brought about by widespread transport disruptions which hindered employees from getting into work on time, if at all.
The last big freeze happened in 2010, when 20 percent of workers were unable to get to work, resulting in a £1.2bn hit to the UK economy, according to statistics published in Accounting Web. With Economists from the Centre for Economics and Business Research roughly estimating that last week’s snow storms struck at a cost of approximately £1bn of GDP per day, the good news is that even though some parts of the UK are still experiencing disruption due to snow, most of the country has a month to recover losses before the end of the quarter.
While businesses are certainly unable to control the weather, they can adapt to the storms thrown their way through effective staff and workflow management. If you were among the employers who all but pulled their hair out in panic over the turbulent events of last week, we share our top tips for you to beat severe weather challenges next time round!
Unless your business has a contractual obligation to provide transport for staff to and from work, the onus is on employees to get into work in order to get paid, regardless of how bad the weather is. However, numerous employers now have adverse weather policies - or related contractual clauses - which clarify whether payment will be made or not if an employee is unable to attend work due to bad weather.
Having a clear adverse weather policy in place will keep employees informed about the efforts they are expected to make to attend work, how to go about reporting absence and what they can expect from you as an employer. Some employers may consider allowing employees to request time off as paid annual leave due to weather disruptions, or establish an arrangement whereby employees can work in their lost hours at a later stage.
Whatever you decide, advance planning will not only help avoid last minute uncertainties regarding the management of absences, but also resolve salary and logistical issues before the weather turns really bad!
When bad weather results in transport disruptions, school closures and the increased risk of injury during a potentially hazardous commute, allowing employees to work from home is undoubtedly the most sensible approach – unless they are unable to do so, as is the case with hospitality or retail staff. You could also allow your employees to make up for lost working hours at a later stage and within a reasonable timescale.
This approach will not only reassure employees that you have a vested interest in their wellbeing and safety, but it can also cut costs for your business – particularly when public transport is late (resulting in lost working hours) or if you are contractually required to provide transport to and from work when public transport fails completely.
While employers do not have a statutory requirement to pay employees who are unable to turn up for work when the weather is bad, there are some important factors to consider when managing absence during disruptive weather conditions.
Temporary company closure: If you decide to close the business temporarily, this will in effect be a period of lay-off. During this period, you should pay employees their normal wages, unless there is a provision in their contract which allows for unpaid lay-off, or if the employees agree to being laid off without pay. Even where the contract allows for a period of unpaid lay-off, employees may still be entitled to a statutory guarantee payment - up to a maximum of £26 per day when work is unavailable. Employees will need to possess at least one month’s continuous service in order to be considered eligible for a guarantee payment, as well as be available on standby if you reasonably request them to be. If an employee unreasonably refuses an offer of suitable alternative employment for a day when the business is closed, there will be no obligation for an employer to pay them.
The right to reasonable time off for parents: With bad weather causing widespread school closures throughout the UK, many parents have needed to stay home in order to either look after their children or make alternative childcare arrangements. If an employee is looking after their children due to an unexpected disruption, they have a statutory right to unpaid reasonable time off to make arrangements for their dependents in an emergency. However, it’s important to note that this is not time off to look after the child/children, it is time off to make alternative arrangements for their care. Employers may also choose to offer flexible or remote working arrangements in these circumstances.
Health and Safety: Employers are responsible for ensuring that the workplace is a safe environment for employees, and therefore must take action to reduce (and remove where possible) any risks to safety caused by snow and ice. If an employee brings a personal injury claim against their employer as a result of a slip or trip on snow or ice at work, the court will investigate the circumstances in which the accident occurred and the steps taken by the employer to avoid the risk of injury.
While bad weather is certainly a headache for both businesses and employees alike, how you as an employer choose to manage the ensuing challenges can either strengthen or deflate staff morale. For example if an employee shows up late to work because they have been trekking through the snow, confronting them – when they are likely already frustrated as it is - and pointing to their colleagues who made it in on time is certainly not going to help the situation.
When stress levels are running high across all parties within the business, you should avoid conflict and consider resolving any issues in a calm and reasonable manner. Above all else, you should aim to stay positive and support your employees during this time, offering reassurance that you value their wellbeing. This approach will ultimately make for a happier workforce, and no doubt a more successful business as a result!
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