Staff absence rates due to the hazardous weather conditions are thought to be as high as 14% of the UK workforce, higher than have ever been seen before, according to absence management experts.
Heavy snow has caused chaos across the country today as blocked roads and cancelled public transport meant thousands of commuters were unable to get to work, while many schools were also shut, forcing working parents to stay at home.
FirstCare, which provides absences management services covering more than 100,000 employees, said the cost of this high absence rate on the economy could exceed £0.5bn a day.
Aaron Ross, CEO of FirstCare, said: “We have never seen absence rates like this before. Our nurses have been taking calls throughout the night and this morning from employees unable to make it into work.”
Ross added that some HR functions had been “quite slow” to make preparations for the bad weather, and all of the 47 employers that FirstCare works with have had to close offices or departments because they cannot guarantee staff safety.
He told Personnel Today: “Every major employer is effected and has closed some department or function. Offices are closing, for example, because they don’t have enough grit to clear the pathways and the physical environment is not safe enough for employees.
“FirstCare implemented homeworking at the beginning of the week, which we recommended to other employers we work with. Some were quite slow to take up that advice and are now regretting it.”
Ross also warned of longer-term absences being caused by employees falling and suffering fractures and strains, and urged employers to take steps now to limit the effects of such injuries on their businesses.
“We need to look at what absences we can limit, which are those caused by strains and fractures,” he said. “Last year, we saw high absence rates in February due to snow, and subsequently saw an immediate increase in fractures and injuries as people made unnecessary journeys and ended up slipping on ice.
“We are advising all employers to ensure they are making adequate provisions to ensure the safety of employees in their car parks and communal areas over the coming days as the weather changes from snow to freezing conditions.”
Meanwhile, the Institute for Payroll Professionals (IPP) warned high absences could cause a headache for payroll departments.
Elaine Gibson, senior policy officer at the IPP, said: “Businesses need to prepare their payroll departments to deal with the implications of a large number of employee absences this week due to bad weather. Companies also need to be aware of the consequences resulting from payroll staff being among those that are snowed in.”
Snow: what you need to know
Guides on how to deal with employment issues arising from poor weather conditions can be found on the XpertHR website.