The weather conditions in the UK have played havoc with our normal routines – trains, buses and aeroplanes have been cancelled, and travelling by car has been treacherous in many areas. Schools have been closed, meaning that parents have had to stay at home to look after their children. With adverse weather conditions set to continue during and after the Christmas period, employers are having to find ways to manage the situation. We look at some of the tricky issues that our clients have asked us about:
- Do we have to pay people who don’t make it in to work?
The answer here may depend on your arrangements. If, for example, you have staff who are able to work from home, then if they do a day’s work from home you would need to pay them. If however you have staff who have to be at the workplace to do their job, then you would be within your rights to refuse to pay them if they don’t come in to work. Alternatively, you could ask them to make up the time.
However, this may not necessarily be the best course of action, as it is likely to cause resentment, especially where people struggle, but fail, to get into work because of the weather conditions. It might also encourage staff to call in sick instead of admitting they aren’t able to travel, so that they get sick pay.
Unfortunately there will always be some people who use the weather as an excuse to stay at home, but they will nearly always be a small minority. If you have clear and consistent rules on notification and pay, you should keep abuse to a minimum.
- What about if we decide to shut down, or send people home early?
If it is your decision to shut down or close the workplace early, then employees would normally be entitled to pay for the rest of the day.
- Should I worry about people’s safety when they are travelling to work?
An employer has a duty to take reasonable care of an employee’s health and safety. If you insist on an employee coming to work even where the conditions make it dangerous to do so, you could be in breach of that duty. This could apply if, for example, the police have said that cars should not go out on the roads in a particular area.
- I have an employee who didn’t come in, although I think he could have done if he really tried. Can I do anything about this?
As with any absence from work, if you have grounds to believe that it is not for legitimate reasons, you could take disciplinary action. However, whether this is the right approach to take may depend on the evidence you have – it may be difficult to show that he was really able to get to work. It would also send a very negative message to other employees, so is only worth doing if you have strong evidence to rely on.
- A lot of schools were closed in the past few weeks of term. What do I do about parents who are able to get to work, but can’t because they need to look after their children?
Employees have a statutory right to take time off in an emergency to care for their dependents. However, it is not a right to paid leave, so you would need to decide whether or not to pay employees who are in this situation. You could offer to allow them to take the time as holiday, but cannot insist on this.
- One of my employees said she was working from home because of the snow, but I know that her three young children were at home as their school is closed. I don’t believe she can work from home while they are there – what can I do about this in future?
There are a number of different ways you could deal with this situation, but if you are concerned that your employee is not able to do her work, then it is probably best to talk to her about it. What action you take (if any) would then depend on how that conversation goes. It will also be important to be consistent – if you check up on her to find out how much work she is doing from home, then you should also check up on other staff too, so that you are not seen to discriminate against those with childcare responsibilities.
- I have an employee who has a burst pipe at home. He has called a plumber out and says he needs to take time off to be at home when the plumber is there. Do I have to give him the time off?
The right to time off for emergencies only applies to emergencies involving dependents, so he doesn’t have the right to take the time off. It will probably depend on what you would normally do if someone needs to take time off in similar situations – do you usually allow paid leave, do they make the time up, or do you deal with it as unpaid leave? Most employers find that for these situations, giving paid leave or allowing the time to be made up later is a way of maintaining good relationships with the workforce.
It is always a good idea for employers to be prepared for these sorts of eventualities as part of business continuity planning as well as employee relations. Not every business will need a formal policy, but it is a good idea to communicate with your staff to ensure that everyone knows what is expected of them. For example, if a staff member cannot make it to work, who should they notify and how? The policy will also help ensure a consistent approach which will help avoid complaints.
If you would like to talk through a situation you are dealing with, or if you need advice on any aspect of employment law, please contact any member of the Pure Employment Law team (01243 836840 or [email protected])