Written by Nicola Gater | 2nd November 2023
As we all endure the havoc caused by another storm this week, and with more adverse weather conditions likely to hit the UK, it’s advisable that employers think carefully about managing employee absences.
Wind, snow, rain or extreme heat may hinder or prevent an employee’s journey to work, which can create tricky situations for both employees and employers – it being unsafe for employees to get into work, and the potential disruption to business operations with them not being in work. School closures can also impact working parent’s ability to work normally.
As such, we recommend that employers consider planning ahead and introduce an Adverse Weather policy. Here are some considerations for when the weather takes a bad turn…
Create a clear policy for weather-related absences
Employees should be clear that they are expected to take all reasonable steps to attend work, on time and at all times.
However, severe weather or other circumstances such as disruption to public transport, may make travelling to work difficult or unsafe.
It would be sensible to have an Adverse Weather policy and clearly communicate it to managers and employees so that they are aware of what’s expected of them and actions they need to take in the event of extreme weather conditions.
You may include guidance on how and when employees should contact their line manager to arrange alternative working arrangements or to report and seek approval for their absence. The policy could include details about home working or the option to work from an alternative place, if available.
Depending on the severity of the travelling conditions, you may agree employees can start later, finish earlier or remain at home for the duration of the work day – this should be clearly outlined in the policy.
If employees can’t work, an Adverse Weather policy should cover whether absence will be treated as paid holiday, unpaid leave or if employees will be asked to make the time up. It should also stipulate what will happen if the workplace needs to close.
Remote working and flexible working
You may allow employees to work from home when they are unable to travel into work, to reduce the impact on productivity. This may be easier for many businesses now that home and hybrid working has become the norm for many.
You could also consider adopting a flexible approach to working times, working from a different location closer to an individual’s home address or arranging for employees to be brought to and from work.
However, being flexible can often be difficult for organisations where home working is not possible, for example in healthcare or manufacturing. Where flexible working is not an option then it would be advisable to plan ahead and ensure employees are aware of the process to follow (detailed in the Adverse Weather policy) in the event they are unable to attend work due to the weather.
There are particular considerations in effectively managing a team remotely, perhaps thinking about how communication and performance can be maintained, so for guidance on this, read our free 10-point guide.
Be proactive in your planning
Weather is unpredictable and can change at the last minute, therefore preventing employee absence or mitigating the effect of weather on the workplace isn’t easy.
Doing some contingency planning can support your business to remain operational. For your plan to work effectively, consider the following and ensure that it is well communicated to all employees:
- Alternative work arrangements
Do employees have everything they need to work home if necessary? If you have some notice of the extreme weather, ensure people take home IT equipment and are set up to work from home.
Remember that if there are school closures as a result of extreme weather, some parents may not be able to attend workplaces or work from home. You should refer to your Adverse Weather policy here on how to deal with absences, and your Time Off for Dependents policy. In emergency situations, employees are entitled to take unpaid time off to care for their dependents. School closure is likely to be classified as an emergency situation.
- Travel arrangements
Your contingency plans may include alternative arrangements for travelling to work, such as using alternative means of transport, car sharing, public transport or even walking where that is a reasonable and safe option and of course, taking into account individual personal circumstances and distance to travel.
- Stay flexible
As we mentioned above, weather can change at the last minute – it may be better or worse than expected.
Stay abreast of changes to the situation, for example if people are in the workplace and then the weather forecast changes, be prepared to send them home early so they can get home without being affected.
Likewise, ensure employee contact details are up to date and appropriate, so people can be contacted at home if arrangements need to change.
- Employee safety and welfare
Remember your obligation to ensure the health, safety and welfare of your employees. Some employees may be affected more than others – and in extreme circumstances people may not be able to work if there are floods or damage to their home. Support employees with this – they may need to be away from work for longer than a day or two for instance, but also have a plan in place to cover their absence. Also ensure they are reminded of any benefits that can provide appropriate support in these circumstances, such as an Employee Assistance Programme.
As an employer you have a duty of care to provide a safe workplace, under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974.
We advise you factor the impact of adverse weather into your normal risk assessments and consider in particular; the potential risks of asking employees to travel to the workplace in extreme weather, your plans for action if the weather deteriorates during the working day, if there are increased risks for workers with disabilities or who are pregnant and what preventative measures you can take to mitigate these risks.
Pay and annual leave
If your workplace remains open but employees are absent from work because of the conditions, or because their normal transport method is unavailable, we suggest you be flexible and empathetic – recognise that it isn’t the employee’s fault that they are absent.
However it isn’t the employer’s fault either, and so it is reasonable to ask employees to take short-notice paid holiday, unpaid leave or make the time up. While requests for annual leave don’t have to be accepted, it’s good for employee relationships and morale to do so.
If you feel that some employees may take advantage of the situation for a day off, it can be difficult to prove that they aren’t being genuine about not being able to get to work, so it might not be appropriate to take any formal action. Consider each case individually and make sure you complete an appropriate investigation of the facts before proceeding. Seek outsourced HR support if needed.
Ultimately, during adverse weather you should be empathetic and encourage managers to do the same. Avoid putting pressure on employees to take unnecessary risks to get to work, refer to your policy and communicate as early as possible about working arrangements and pay.