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Floods affecting your employees?

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Cynthia Parker #floods, #employeeabsence, #hr...

Flood affecting your employees?

What happens about pay when employees can’t get to work because of floods or any adverse weather condition is a difficult question for many companies. Employers want to be sympathetic and supportive to employees, particularly for the one off occasional incident. However, the reality is this is likely to be a reoccurring issue affecting many employees, so it is important to ensure you have a thoroughly thought out policy for such absences.

Employees not being able to get to work is an increasing problem because:-

  • Extremes of weather are likely to increase according to many scientists and certainly we have experienced some of the worst flooding since July 2007.
  • More employees are travelling further distances to work and in our rural Counties in particular, a larger number may be travelling minor, unmaintained roads.
  • Public transport and alternative commuting options are also limited in our rural Counties.  
  • School closures and the increasing awareness of Health & Safety risks has seen schools closed more promptly for issues such as icy playgrounds and car parks, which means employees need time off for parental duties, even if the weather conditions are not otherwise preventing them from commuting to work.

The legal position

There is no automatic legal right for a worker to be paid for working time they have missed because of travel disruption or bad weather. The exception is if it is an employer-provided transport that has been cancelled because of bad weather or travel disruption, and a worker was otherwise ready, willing and available to work. (see https://www.gov.uk)

Commercial policies

Whilst the legal position for such employee absences is clear, there may be very good commercial reasons for devising your own special arrangements. If it is important to your business that tasks are completed within tight timescales, enabling employees to carry on working is going to be far more beneficial. However, encouraging attendance should not advocate employees taking unnecessary risks with their own safety or that of others. Fairness and consistency should, as always, underpin considerations. Remember, once precedence is set, it is difficult to go back on it.

Adverse weather work continuity issues to consider:-

  • Can employees work from home – don’t wait until the weather event happens as this may take time to set up. Identify the employees likely to be at risk and ensure they have the IT set up at home in place in readiness. You may also want to amend their employment contract to cover work from home requirements.
  • Alternative work locations – if your office is located in a particular weather prone location maybe employees could work from a different site.
  • Making up time – absent employees may result in a backlog of work and rather than not pay absentees, employees could instead be asked to make up the time, for example through shorter lunch hours the following week. This way employee earnings and Company productivity is not adversely affected. 
  • Agreeing for workers to take time off as paid annual leave instead of unpaid leave ensures they do not loose pay and the Company overall productivity suffers no greater loss of manpower than would otherwise be the case.  This may require flexibility to allow time off at short notice as oppose to giving the usually required notice of intention to take annual leave.
  • An employer should take extra care for vulnerable workers, such as pregnant workers. If a risk cannot be avoided or removed from the work place, such as an icy car park, some workers may have to be sent home to protect their health, usually on full pay.
  • Discretionary, informal arrangements as opposed to  blanket policies allow employers to differentiate between those whose output is vital to the business, with the experience and capability to work independently from home and those who are not able to work effectively on their own at home.  However, consideration should also be given to the Equality Act 2010 which includes ‘equality of terms”. 
  • GDPR and confidential data requirements need to be considered when asking employees to work from any different location and may require changes to your policies.  
  • Where jobs involve supervising teams or being supervised, working from home can be problematic but issues can often be overcome by having different management strategies, such as skype conference calls and emailing work plans.   
  • Small gestures of support from employers are always appreciated and cost nothing, such as relaxing their dress code to enable employees to wear warmer clothing or boots.

Business continuity

Remember that whatever arrangements you make for your employees should sit within your overall business continuity strategy. For example, customers and business partners may need to be given mobile numbers to use if offices are not manned. Conversely, if they are not able to get to their places of work, do you have contingency arrangements for how you will continue working with them?

Know the law

Please see:  https://www.gov.uk  and  www.acas.org.uk  as the  following information has been taken from these two sites and may change.

There is no automatic legal right for a worker to be paid for working time they have missed because of travel disruption or bad weather. The exception is if it is an employer-provided transport that has been cancelled because of bad weather or travel disruption, and a worker was otherwise ready, willing and available to work.

Paying delayed or absent employees

There is no automatic legal right for a worker to be paid for working time they have missed because of travel disruption or bad weather. The exception is if it is an employer-provided transport that has been cancelled because of bad weather or travel disruption, and a worker was otherwise ready, willing and available to work.

Some Employment contracts and workplace policies may have special arrangements covering this kind of situation. This might include pay arrangements. Some employers might also make discretionary, informal arrangements.

Paying workers when an employer decides to close

Workers who were ready, available and willing to work will usually be entitled to their normal pay if their employer fully or partly closes their business or if their employer reduces their hours. 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 a statutory guarantee payment.

School closures and other unexpected issues

In an emergency situation involving a dependent, anyone with employee status has the right to take unpaid time off.

Situations could include:

  • school is closed and a worker cannot leave their child
  • caring arrangements for a disabled relative are cancelled
  • a partner is seriously injured as a result of bad weather.

This time is unpaid unless a contract or policy says otherwise.

Planning ahead to minimise difficulties

An employer can provide clarity to employees and help prevent confusion by planning ahead, having a bad weather or travel disruption policy and circulating it again when potential adverse weather is on the horizon. The policy should include:

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

A worker can also take steps to plan ahead. They should consider:

  • how they can contact their employer if they are unable to get into work
  • alternative travel options that could get them into the workplace (but the employer is not obliged to pay the cost of any additional travel arrangements).
  • 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 child care if schools close.

The above article is intended to give readers an idea of the issues involved only and should not be used as the basis for legal or contractual policies or informal arrangements. You are strongly advised to seek qualified legal advice for any employment related issue, as best practice varies depending on the individual, the specific circumstances and can change over time, so you should always get full up to date advice for any issue.