Snow problem for HR as cold snap continues

Reports of the coldest winter in 30 years did not stop some HR professionals from doing all they could to get themselves – and others – to work this week.


HR pros get front-line staff to work in 4x4s


Gallant council HR professionals determined not to let the snow interfere with front-line services drove key workers back and forth to schools and people’s homes in their 4x4s this week.


As snow caused chaos across the UK’s roads and rail routes, HR functions were left battling absence rates of up to 14% a day, according to absence management firm Firstcare.


To minimise disruption, HR teams used their own gas-guzzlers to ensure front-line staff got to work.


Leatham Green, assistant director of personnel and training at East Sussex County Council, said six of his HR team – nearly 10% of the function – had helped drive key staff to work, while more than 50 staff across the council had also made their vehicles available.


He told Personnel Today: “Our own HR staff volunteered to help out, six of them have been helping people get to work. We have also asked staff who we know have 4x4s to volunteer and help to get other staff to work.”


Richard Crouch, head of HR and organisational development at Somerset County Council, also battled the icy conditions using his own car to help out. “We have staff who have used their 4x4s here and I have been one of them supporting a local primary school,” he said.


He added the HR function had encouraged managers to ask staff who drove 4x4s to offer their services to other local authority services.


Meanwhile the HR team at Buckinghamshire County Council approached local 4×4 enthusiast clubs and asked them to supply vehicles to help homecare staff get to people’s houses.


The disruption caused by the snow was predicted to have cost the economy more than £0.5bn a day.


HR chiefs vow not to dock wages of snowed-in staff


Leading HR chiefs have promised not to dock the pay of staff who failed to make it in to work due to the extreme weather conditions last week.


Employers are legally entitled to ask staff to take unpaid leave or annual leave when they cannot get to work. But some HR professionals told Personnel Today it would be detrimental to penalise workers who, through no fault of their own, could not turn up.


Tony Leahy, head of HR at the Bank of Cyprus, said: “Where employees did their best to get in, we are not deducting pay for those that didn’t make it or who left early. Clearly these are unusual weather conditions. We believe we have more to gain in goodwill by taking a balanced approach rather than being too heavy-handed.”


Law firm Linklaters also decided to allow workers who were unable to get to an office or work from home a ‘snow day’.









News in brief


Hospitals


Hospitals in some of the worst affected areas were forced to enable doctors and nurses to sleep at work overnight to ensure they were there the next day to maintain services.


At the height of the snowfall last week, Barnsley Hospital’s HR function had to find accommodation onsite for 30 clinical staff and consultants to ensure they were available to cover shifts the following day. Spare beds were found in nursing quarters, but staff were not paid to stay overnight.


Policing agency


The National Policing Improvement Agency put video and teleconferencing technology to good use last week to keep in touch with colleagues and host meetings when the snow forced some training centres to shut.


HR director Angela O’Connor said: “This type of weather becomes a test for employers in ensuring that firstly their employees are engaged enough to want to do their best to keep working and providing services, and secondly that we utilise technology so that we can keep going.”


Caroline Rawes, HR director at the firm, said: “While we encourage everyone to take every step they can reasonably make to come in to the office, we do not dock the pay of those who cannot. Nor would we expect people to take holiday.”


Last week, the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development made it clear that employees should not have to “risk life and limb” to get to work, and the TUC criticised “scrooge” bosses who refuse to pay wages to staff who were prevented from getting to work despite their best efforts.


However, Jo Stubbs, employment law editor at XpertHR, said: “The bottom line is that employees must be ready and willing to perform their duties in return for payment.”


 


 

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