Ice-cold Herts takes hard line on snow-bound absentees

Staff must work extra hours, or take as annual leave, the time they have missed from work because of the snow blizzard, Hertfordshire County Council has warned.

In a week when extreme weather was estimated to have cost UK business £1.2bn a day in lost employee productivity, according to the Federation of Small Businesses, debate has raged between HR practitioners over whether workers should be paid for taking time off because of the bad weather.

Alan Warner, director of people and property at Hertfordshire was adamant that all staff were expected to come in to the office.

“We send out a clear message, it’s a normal working day. We don’t just say ‘don’t bother coming in’.”

Nor should snowed-in staff that ring in to confirm they cannot make it expect this to be a green light for taking the day off, he said.

Warner was snowed into his rural village on Monday, but succeeded in invoking council business continuity plans via a BlackBerry, mobile phone and remote access to council systems.

Employees should always try to work from home, he said, allowing for some flexibility.

But this approach was against advice of the TUC, which said snowed-in workers should not be forced to take holiday by “scrooge” employers because they’ve been kept away from work over the past few days.

General secretary Brendan Barber said: “Workers who have been prevented from working through no fault of their own should not have to foot the bill for the bad weather conditions.”

Elsewhere, councils admitted that IT limitations let them down.

Martin Rayson, director of resources at Boston Borough Council said: “Homeworking is not as developed as it might be. It demonstrates that while we do encourage homeworking, it is limited by the IT infrastructure.”

But Cambridgeshire County Council told a different story. Stephen Moir, director of people and policy said a lot of time and effort had gone into building an effective remote access network.

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