With the coldest winter in a decade predicted, I am concerned about employee absence levels. Is my company legally obliged to pay employees who fail to make it to work because of adverse weather conditions?
Update: Personnel Today now has a dedicated page on disruption caused by severe weather.
This page is no longer updated but you can find the latest news and guidance on employment issues caused by extreme weather here.
Employees are obliged to attend work in terms of their contracts of employment. This applies even in extreme weather conditions. Therefore, you would be within your rights to refuse to pay an employee who cannot make it into work because they are ‘snowed in’ or because public transport has been cancelled due to the weather.
However, you should assess whether this would be in the interests of your business. It may be that the financial burden to the business of paying staff in these circumstances is outweighed by the benefits that such a gesture would have on staff morale and productivity in the long run.
It is also worth thinking about alternative ways to manage the situation. This will, of course, be largely dependent on your business needs. For example, it may be worth giving employees the option to work from home when extreme weather conditions hit. For many businesses, this is becoming increasingly practical given that more and more employees have access to a laptop or a home computer that allows them to fulfil their duties from home. Other options are to allow employees to take the days off as part of their annual leave, or pay them but expect them to make up the time at a later date.
Should I be taking any steps now to prevent chaos when the bad weather hits?
If possible, it would be sensible to introduce a policy on adverse weather conditions, or amend your absence management policy to provide for such instances. Any such implementation or change to an existing policy should be communicated to all staff. You should put in place a procedure for employees to notify an appropriate person by a certain time if they have any problems getting into work. To avoid any doubt, you should clarify whether employees will be paid for the days they are unable to get into work because of the weather, rather than risk giving them a nasty surprise when they receive their payslip.
You may also want to make it clear that employees are expected to make reasonable efforts to get into work (for example, using alternative travel arrangements).
However, employees should not feel pressured to risk their safety to get into the office. Therefore, any policy should be as fair as possible and take into consideration the health and safety of employees.
What steps can I take if I suspect that an employee is using the weather conditions as an excuse for not turning up to work?
If you believe that an employee is using weather conditions as an excuse for absence or lateness, then you should reiterate the company’s policy on this issue. You should also make the employee aware that disciplinary action may be taken if they are suspected of using the weather conditions as an excuse for not attending work. If the absences become frequent, then you should take action in line with the company’s disciplinary policy.