How Employers can turn “Snow Worries” into “No Worries…”
Dundee is the British city most likely to have a white Christmas this year. The odds of snow falling over the River Tay on Christmas Day are better than ever. With that in mind, employers would be well advised to consider the repercussions of bad weather in the lead up to the festive season.
Absent employees – No dough
Employees are required to attend work even in extreme weather conditions. If an employee is unable to attend work because of bad weather, an employer is generally entitled to treat the absence as unauthorised and is under no obligation to pay that employee. Having said that, it is always preferable to make employees aware of any bad weather policy prior to the bad weather and best practice would be to have the policy clearly outlined in writing. Employers would be well advised to consider creating bad weather policies to cover these scenarios. Such policies should address how the employer will treat lateness due to bad weather and what will happen with regards to pay.
Closed workplace – No go
If an employer requires to close its premises at short notice due to extreme bad weather, in the absence of express written agreement the employer still requires to pay its employees their salary. Even if there is no work available as a result of bad weather and office closure, it would be unlawful to withhold pay without the employees’ consent in writing. Some employers have “lay-off” clauses in their staff contracts. Such clauses can permit employers to lay-off employees without pay. However these clauses can be relatively complicated and an employer should take legal advice about such a clause before attempting to operate it.
Untruthful employees – No Snow
Occasionally employees will exaggerate the extent of the bad weather in their locality and might suggest that the snowfall is heavier than it is, in an attempt to enjoy an extra duvet day. If an employer discovers that an employee has lied about the weather in an attempt to avoid attending work, the employer would be entitled to take disciplinary action against that employee on the basis of misconduct. Before taking such action however, the employer would still require to conduct a full investigation and then reach a fair decision regarding the appropriate disciplinary sanction based on its reasonable belief.
School closures – No show
Whilst there is statutory protection for employees who require to take emergency leave as a result of childcare arrangements, school closures do not generally fall within this category. Emergency leave is available when there is an “unexpected disruption to childcare” and, unless there are specific applicable circumstances, this does not expressly include a school closure. Having said that, employers should try to be as flexible as possible with employees who are unable to attend work due to school closures. Employers might want to encourage employees to work from home on such occasions. Alternatively employers might want to permit employees to make up the time at a later date. It would however be important for an employer to adopt a consistent approach when dealing with such situations.
Ultimately the handling of bad weather procedures is an opportunity for employers to enhance staff morale and productivity in the workplace by considering solutions to the climatic conditions. Experience demonstrates that employers who deal with these issues in a fair manner have a happier, healthier workforce. ‘Tis still the season to be merry!Simon Allison Partner – Employment Law