It's cold outside: why workplaces need an adverse weather policy

snowy roadKate Palmer explains why employers should be prepared for severe winter weather.

Employers have the right to expect employees to make it into work when they are required, and they have no legal obligation to pay them for any periods in which they fail to do this.

However, there are times when bad weather hinders or prevents an employee’s journey to work. This can create tricky situations for both employees and employers – it being unsafe for employees to get into work, and the potential loss in overall productivity and output with them not being in work.

As such, with temperatures expected to drop significantly over the coming weeks, it's highly advisable that employers plan for these situations.

Safety shouldn’t be compromised

Employers have a legal duty to ensure the health and safety of their workforce, and this should not be compromised in the event of severe weather.

Employers should therefore be open to exploring alternative arrangements that may ensure their safety and also reduce the effect that the weather will have on the company. For example, it may be safer for someone to work from home, or in a pre-arranged building that is closer to them.

If such an option is not possible, the lost working day could be treated as annual leave, although this arrangement will likely need to be agreed with the employee. Generally, employees cannot be made to take leave without a requisite period of notice.

Have a visible policy in place

To ensure that all employees are aware of their position if they struggle to get to work because of bad weather, it is highly advisable that a visible policy is maintained.

A detailed policy will establish the potential consequences for what action will be taken if an employee is suspected of dishonesty, such as pursuing a disciplinary procedure. The policy should also confirm the effect on pay if the employee is absent.

Employers should remember that non-attendance in these situations is likely not the employee’s fault, and that it may be detrimental to employee relations if they are subject to a reprimand, or lose out on pay as a result.

Due to the severe weather in recent times, and claims from unions that many workers are regularly forced to travel in dangerous conditions or risk losing a day’s pay, the Scottish government has produced a Fair Work Charter to provide a set of guiding principles to support employers and workers in this situation.

Although the charter is not mandatory, it can help to promote fairer working practices, and employers may wish to adopt it across the UK.

About the author

Kate Palmer is associate director at Peninsula, a team of HR, employment law and health and safety experts.

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