Bryony Goldspink quoted by HR magazine discussing the impact of adverse weather on employers and employees

Tuesday 19th December 2023

Bryony Goldspink, partner and specialist in retail and employment law has been quoted in leading HR industry publication, HR Magazine, discussing guidance around adverse weather policies for employers.

The article follows the turbulent weather seen throughout Autumn 2023 with two major storms: Babet and Ciarán. These kinds of volatile weather patterns are set to become the norm.

Employers are rightly concerned about the impact of these adverse weather events. Risk management provider, Healix, found that of all extreme weather events, businesses are most concerned about extreme heat and the effect it has on employees (73 per cent), followed by heavy rainfall and flooding (37 per cent).

Almost three quarters of businesses said they had already been directly affected by weather conditions such as these.

With such unpredictable weather, organisations need to consider the implications this can have on colleagues through HR adverse weather policies.

Plan ahead

Discussing how employers can kick off their thinking around adverse weather policies, Bryony commented: “Even if adverse weather is somewhat predictable thanks to modern forecasting, it is certainly unavoidable and can reap significant damage and disruption, especially when it comes commuting.

“However, it is important to remember the intensity and scale of the adverse conditions should be considered if HR teams are going to develop an appropriate guide. Rainy conditions are less likely to cause the same level of disruption as a storm with 100mph winds or several inches of snow.

There is technically no legal requirement for employers to have a weather policy in place for employees, but there obviously are legal obligations that cover the health and safety of workers – a factor at risk during the height of extreme weather conditions.

To mitigate such risks, employers need to be proactive in sending out updates to staff when weather alerts are made.

Exploring this proactivity, Bryony advises: “Employers can follow learnings from travel disruption created by strikes and industrial action. With planned strikes, like forecasted adverse weather conditions, there is sometimes an opportunity for employees to find alternative arrangements.

“Yet there can also be unexpected travel disruption, meaning employees can arrive late or not get into work at all.

“These can come in a variety of guises. For example, it is not unheard of for rail operators to cite warped tracks during a heatwave or leaves on the line in the rainy Autumn months.

“In these cases, it is hard to successfully argue that employees should have known or been able to anticipate these unplanned instances. Consequently, it needs to be considered carefully whether they should be disciplined or face a loss in pay.

“Although the onus is on employees to turn up for work on time, proactive employers would send out updates to all staff when weather alerts are made. If there is official guidance to avoid all but necessary travel during extreme weather conditions, then employers should not force employees to come into work.

“Employers could remind employees to adjust their commuting plans. Alternatively, if they are on a hybrid working arrangement, employers could suggest employees alter their days in the office around the anticipated disruption and its immediate aftermath.

However, there could be instances where HR teams need to handle employees who might be suspected of using extreme weather conditions to purposely miss work and their contractual obligations. This can occur even if employers have deployed measures to mitigate the impact of bad weather.

Bryony advises: “If employees are given notice but persistently fail to make alternative arrangements, or if the adverse weather conditions have passed, then this could potentially become a disciplinary matter on the grounds of misconduct.

“Similarly, if they are on a working arrangement where they are only paid when on site, continual lateness when there are no obvious weather-related issues could be grounds for loss of pay.

“Also, if an employee’s colleagues still managed to arrive at work in a timely way, HR teams should investigate whether appropriate arrangements were made. This may require the employee to produce evidence of their personal experiences of the disruption they faced.

Be consistent

“However, as with all conduct issues, it is important that any disciplinary matters are dealt with consistently. If one employee receives a disciplinary sanction, or even loss of pay, for persistent lateness, but others do not, this could be unfair or even discriminatory depending on the circumstances.

It is important to remember that the negative impact of adverse weather on employees is not just seen with rain, storms and snow, but when the weather is seemingly glorious. Heatwaves are an example of this.

Bryony added: “In circumstances where employees can travel but productivity is hampered, for example, with hot weather, there are other ways for employers to be proactive.

Consult guidance

“There is no hard and fast ‘maximum temperature’ after which work cannot be carried out. The Health & Safety Executive states that “during working hours, the temperature in all workplaces inside buildings shall be reasonable”. What is deemed to be reasonable depends on the type of work being done and the type of workplace.

“HR teams should consult HSE guidance and ACAS guidance if they are uncertain. For example, the guidance reminds employers that suitable drinking water must be provided in the workplace and confirms that whilst employers are under no legal obligation to amend their dress code or uniform policy during hot weather, it may be prudent to relax the rules where possible.”

The UK’s changing weather means employers need to be proactive when it comes to mitigating its impact on employees.

You can read Bryony’s comments in HR Magazine here.

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