If employees are unable to reach work due to adverse weather, transport strikes or other major incidents Sonia Bhola explains what employers can do to protect their businesses.
The recent winter weather prevented many employees from reaching their place of work and last year we had similar problems with the volcanic ash cloud. Transportation strikes can cause similar problems for employers who have to grapple with a number of difficult issues, such as:
- how much time off should be given to employees?
- should the employees receive payment for such time off?
- how do they ensure business continuity?
If employees are unable to attend work, you should consider offering alternative solutions such as working from home or attending another site that may be easier for the employee to get to. Alternatively, you may agree to them making up the lost hours at a later date.
However, in certain circumstances you may not be able to insist on employees attending work. Those employees that have children or an elderly relative that they care for are protected from suffering a detriment if they have to make arrangements to care for such groups in an emergency although they are only allowed to take unpaid leave.
You would only be compelled to provide paid leave if your contracts or custom and practice provided for it.
The question most often asked is whether an employee is entitled to receive pay for any time that they are away from their place of work.
This largely depends on the contractual terms agreed between you and the employee. If this issue is not dealt with specifically in their contract then you must look to other documents, such as the employee handbook, or your past conduct in order to work out whether a precedent has been set previously.
In the absence of an express term in the contract, or previous precedents, you will need to look at whether there is an expectation by the employee to be paid regardless of whether they attend work or not. This may be true of salaried employees, where payment may need to be made, whilst it is unlikely to apply to piece-workers who are only paid for the work that they have completed.
Whilst you may have the contractual right not to pay staff, this should always be considered under the wider umbrella of employment relations. Such deductions in pay could lead to a reduction in morale, and that may lead to a reduction in productivity, a rise in staff turnover, bad publicity, or bogus sick claims – all of which could also affect your productivity and profitability.
An alternative could be to pay all staff, even if they are unable to attend work. The problem with this option is that it may sit uncomfortably with many. If some employees make little or no effort to attend work, whilst others make a huge effort to get in, then this can affect morale and over-inflate the costs to the business by the greater number of absentees.
Continuity and practical steps
In order to avoid difficult industrial relations, it is advisable to develop a strategy to help you manage your business in such circumstances so as to limit the damage to the business.
It would then be helpful to implement a policy to deliver the strategy developed, and in planning this you should consider the following:
Consider the risks to the business and develop a strategy to combat these issues.
- Where possible, amend or include appropriate terms in your contracts of employment which allow you to make deductions from salary in circumstances where payments will not be due and define the circumstances in which payments will or will not be made.
- Define the circumstances in which payments will be made and where possible the duration of those payments.
- Devise and implement a policy that covers adverse weather and travel disruptions so that all employees are aware of their roles and obligations and provide training to managers.
- Distribute the policy internally before such an issue arises, so that all employees are aware of their roles and obligations.
- Allow employees to work from home or from an alternative place of work where possible.
- Decide the circumstances in which employees shall and shall not be paid and include this in your policy.
- Ensure that the policy sets out a reporting procedure. Payment may be conditional upon such procedures being followed.
- Consider the wider employment relationship issues such as morale and productivity when devising and implementing the policy.
- If the workplace is unsafe to open then consider closing it and sending employees home.
- Apply your policy consistently.
This article is for general information purposes only and does not constitute legal or professional advice. It should not be used as a substitute for legal advice relating to your particular circumstances. Please note that the law may have changed since the date of this article.