Bad Weather and the Workplace

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Over the last few winters, spates of bad weather have caused major disruption to businesses across the UK with an estimated cost to the UK economy of £230 million per day of disruption.  Darryll Thomas, employment lawyer at The Wilkes Partnership, advises that employers should consider implementing a Bad Weather Policy so that employees clearly understand what is expected of them in such circumstances and what the ramifications are if they are unable to attend work due to extreme adverse weather.

Traditionally there appears to be a culture within much of the UK whereby employees consider such weather events to be an opportunity to take a ‘duvet day’ for which they will receive full salary. However, the fact of the matter is that employees are not automatically entitled to pay if they are unable to get into work due to bad weather.

Darryll explains that a sensibly drafted Bad Weather Policy would go some way to dispelling any myth that employees can take paid time off and provide advance clarification to the work force as to the employer’s expectations in these circumstances.

The fundamental principle of any such policy would be that in the first instance employees are required to make reasonable efforts to attend work. This may include attending a different office that is more easily accessible.

Employers should also be as flexible as possible in their approach and where possible should consider allowing employees to work remotely from home. This is becoming more and more feasible nowadays, with the increased use of blackberries, accessibility of work emails from home computers and laptops, and other mobile devices. It may also be reasonable to allow employees to take annual leave at short notice or even unpaid leave.

Where an employer feels that the policy is being abused they could introduce disciplinary sanctions to counteract this, where for example it is clear that the employee has failed to make any effort to attend work. The employer will need to be careful to ensure that they are consistent in their approach in this respect.

They will also need to consider the personal circumstances of each employee. Some may live in a very accessible area close to their workplace, others may live some distance away or in more rural locations. Darryll explains that ultimately an employer has a duty of care towards the health and safety of its employees and if through threats of disciplinary sanctions, employees are unreasonably forced to make potentially hazardous journeys then this may expose the employer to risk.

Additionally it should be noted that employees have the right to reasonable unpaid time off to care for various dependants in emergency situations and not be subjected to any detriment in employment as a result. As such an employee with young children whose school has closed due to the conditions is likely to be entitled to time off to care for them. Strictly speaking, the right to time off is unpaid but not all employers will take this approach. If the employer pays, it is important that it adopts a consistent approach to all staff including those without children.

Darryll advises that whilst there will never be a perfect solution to the disruption caused by bad weather to the workplace, good planning and communication by the employer will go some way to alleviating the situation when it does arise.

If you have any query arising from this update, please contact Darryll Thomas on dthomas@wilkes.co.uk or any member of the Employment team.