Winter weather advice for small businesses

Winter weather is on its way, leaving many employers to deal with problems regarding pay and absence caused by ice, snow and now floods. Now is the perfect time to review your ‘bad weather’ and business continuity policies to make sure your business can cope if a crisis occurs.

To pay or not to pay?

If your staff aren’t able to get into work during bad weather, you may be unsure of how to deal with the situation. Legally, you’re under no obligation to pay an employee who fails to attend work, as it can be argued that the employee is in breach of contract.

However, employees have statutory protection against unauthorised deductions being made from their wages, so if you have no contractual right to deduct pay and if your employee does not consent, deducting pay could be potentially subject to a legal challenge. If an employee has to take time off during bad weather to look after their children (for example, due to a school closure) they are entitled to unpaid dependant’s leave.

This protects them from suffering any discrimination because of an “unexpected disruption to childcare”. However, though there is no legal obligation to pay employees who haven’t attended work, it could greatly help to maintain staff morale and productivity if you do choose to pay them.

Alternatively, you could offer to pay in return that they make the hours up over a period time, or give them the option to take paid leave from their holiday entitlement. But remember that you cannot force employees to take annual leave without their consent.

Whatever you chose to do, make sure you act reasonably, take a consistent approach and communicate your decision clearly to all employees.

In order for staff to know what to do in circumstances of bad weather ie snow make sure that contracts and workplace policies show what employees need to do in special circumstances like these. This might include things like working at the nearest accessible workplace, doing other duties or working from home if they are able to.

Some contracts may allow employers to ‘lay off‘ some staff without pay. However, it must be completely clear how the circumstances apply and anyone with employee status will usually have a right to statutory guarantee payment.

If an employee gives you no notification that they won’t be coming in, the absence can be treated as unauthorised unpaid leave.

Closing your business

If you chose to close your business for a period of time, any employees who were expected to work during this time should be paid as usual.

Similarly, if you allowed employees to go home early to avoid hazardous conditions, they shouldn’t be expected to make up this time. What about employees who did make it in?

While it may not be feasible to reward those members of staff that did struggle into work, it is good for morale to let them know that you appreciate their effort and encourage them to take care when travelling.

For example, perhaps allow them to leave early to avoid any further bad weather. Home working If possible, when weather conditions make getting into work hazardous, you could allow employees to do what work they can from home.

Employees should still contact you first to agree what work they will do and how this will be monitored. To make this possible, you may need to provide your employees with remote IT access.

Creating a ‘bad weather’ policy

To prepare for future occurrences of bad weather and other disruptions to your business, it may help to create a ‘bad weather’ policy. This should set out:

  • How the company will react to bad weather and what employees can expect from you
  • Whether you will pay employees who can’t attend work because of the weather
  • Whether any roles can be carried out from home and what IT support is required
  • What you expect from your staff – i.e. that they shouldn’t endanger themselves but should make reasonable and safe efforts to get in
  • Who staff should contact in the event that they can’t make it in or who to notify that they will be working from home
  • If the weather is so bad that you cannot open your premises, who will notify the staff.

Your ‘bad weather’ policy should make up part of your company’s business continuity plan and plan ahead to minimise difficulties in the workplace.

Creating a policy for bad weather will need to include

  • contact arrangements
  • alternative arrangements
  • what will happen with pay if the employee is unable to work

An employee can also take steps to plan ahead and they could consider the below:

  • how they can contact their employer if they are unable to get to work
  • alternative travel options that could get them into the workplace
  • if they can work flexible hours for a period of time
  • what tasks they may still be able to do from home
  • what urgent work needs covering if they are unable to work
  • what arrangements could be put in place for childcare if schools do close