07/01/2010

Employment e-Brief – Employee Absence and Adverse Weather Policies

Philip Paget, employment law partner

In the past few weeks we have seen some of the most prolonged wintry weather conditions in over 60 years.  Poor weather has led to inevitable difficulties for employees getting to work. In many cases it is so long since we have seen such difficulties that employers have been reaching for, in some cases, non-existent policies covering attendance at work during adverse weather conditions. Likewise, employees worried about not being able to attend work, have had their questions unanswered about what will happen to their pay when through no fault of their own they cannot get into work.

In conditions such as these, a transparent adverse weather policy is essential.

Whilst the safety and wellbeing of employees is of paramount importance, consideration must be given by employers to the potentially crippling effect which large scale employee absence has on the business, preventing services being provided as normal and the immense cost implications of this for businesses.  As one major employer said to its employees recently in an email, “Much as it would be very nice, unfortunately this is not like school, where you get a free day’s holiday when it snows.”

We recommend you dust off those policies and ensure they provide sufficient protection for your business whilst at the same time being reasonable to employees. Then make sure your employees are aware of the policy to be applied.

Typically such policies will confirm that in the event of adverse weather conditions, employees are expected to try to find an alternative mode of transport to ensure that they are able to attend the office and perform their duties as normal.  Policies should make clear that normal absence procedures such as notifying line managers by a set time should also be observed.  Whether the employer pays for such absence or not will depend upon the employer however employers may wish to consider offering employees different options in the event that severe weather conditions prevent them from attending the office such as working from home, taking the absence as annual leave, taking the absence as unpaid leave or making up the period of absence at a future date.

Employers should also be mindful of the employment contract: they may or may not be contractually obliged to pay employees who do not turn up for work regardless of the reason. Finally, we recommend you utilise your back to work interview procedure in each case: after all, this is still absence and you need to establish with a certain degree of precision exactly why your employee could not make it in.

Please contact a member of the Employment team if you have any queries or require assistance in drafting or revising such a policy.