With the winter season upon us, employment specialist David Fenton shares his tips on how to ensure your workplace gets through the colder months with as little disruption as possible.

Reminder to employees

Employees should know that it is their responsibility to arrive at work on time to perform their contractual hours. If your company doesn’t have a “snow policy” or a wider adverse weather policy, it is worth reminding them on this subject.

Be prepared in advance with an adverse weather policy

An adverse weather/strike absence policy can be drafted alongside a “ working from home” policy to ensure that evidence of “successful” working from home on a snow day is not used as a precedent for unwanted homeworking on a more regular basis (if that is desired).

The advantage of having an adverse weather policy is that it saves having to remind employees about their responsibility to get to work and avoids an annual “moral dilemma” over paying staff when they could not get in to work. Understandably, it’s not the staff’s fault if they genuinely can’t get in, but likewise you don’t control the weather or where they choose to live.

Most policies tend to offer some flexibility and ensure uniformity of treatment so you do not create resentment or waste time deciding the rules off the cuff. They also ensure snow absence days, when it is not possible to work flexibly, are not overlooked and are accounted for through payroll/ holiday entitlement.

The disadvantage of adverse weather policies are that, if worded too generously, they can become the precedent for an unofficial “working from home” policy and that may be the very last thing you want. If an employee is unable to work remotely, then it should be highlighted that “snow days” will “cost” the employee in some way, e.g. using up holiday, while still being fair.

What if people can’t get in or will be late?

In your office handbook and staff contracts it should be clear that it is the employee’s responsibility to arrive on time each day (by implication, whatever the weather). Ensure that your staff are aware of the procedure should they be unable to come to work; this should include who to notify, stipulating more than one person (so that they are not permitted to just leave a message which may not be received) and ensuring they give a specific reason why (which you are permitted to verify).

Verifying reasons for not coming in

There is no point checking with news reports as they tend to say people are advised not to travel unless necessary; going to work is necessary except where it is a health and safety risk, as opposed to a crowded and unpleasant or slow journey.

They can’t come in because the school is closed

It is important to distinguish unpaid leave from Time Off For Dependants. Time Off For Dependants is time taken off work to make alternative arrangements for someone else to care for dependants, e.g. when a school or day centre is closed due to snow or strikes.

Time off for this reason is always unpaid and unlimited in use. It is not time off to care for dependants, but rather time to make alternative arrangements for someone else to care for them and should not last more than a day or so each time.

One rule for one and another for everyone else?

Applying different rules to different employees, some of whom are “essential workers”, can be important so long as it is the type of work carried out that is the key factor and no differences in treatment coincidentally split down gender differences, for example. Differences must always be role-based or functional rather than performance-based.

Can I fire someone for not turning up?

Failing to turn up to work without making a reasonable effort is a disciplinary offence.

Where the reason is genuine, offer the employee the option of taking the absent day as part of their paid holiday entitlement. This should be from the current year entitlement only unless you provide more than the statutory minimum (28 days including bank holidays for a full-time worker) so that a worker is not short of statutory holiday the following year.

The alternative is unpaid leave (but you may wish to cap the number of days that can be taken this way and vary the cap in extreme conditions). If you propose to offer this, it is important to distinguish this situation from Time Off For Dependants.

If you would like advice on an adverse weather or working from home policy, updating of handbooks and contracts or just for the wording for a “seasonal email” to staff, please contact us.

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.