With bookies slashing the odds of a White Christmas this week, Scotland and the rest of the UK is braced for the coldest winter in five years.
But while a generous sprinkling of the white stuff looks fabulous when you’re tucked up inside, it also brings with it a whole host of challenges for employers, not least its ability to bring your business to a standstill.
But what happens when schools close, public transport grinds to a halt and your staff can’t get into work?
Alan Matthew, employment law expert at Tayside solicitors Miller Hendry, said:
“In an ideal world, employers should communicate what is expected ahead of any forecasted bad weather, and make sure their employees know the procedures.
“Of course, that’s not always possible. So here’s seven things employers (and employees) need to know if the weather turns nasty over the festive season …”
- Do I have to pay my staff if they can’t get into work because of travel disruption?
There is, in principle, no obligation for employers to pay staff if they cannot physically get to their place of work. This is, technically speaking, an unauthorised absence. Employers must ensure your contracts entitle you to make deductions from staff wages in the event of unauthorised absence, otherwise you risk claims for unlawful deductions.
- Can I make staff take weather-related absence as paid leave?
In theory you can always ask, but you should review contracts in advance and clearly communicate your approach to weather-related absences. Do not force employees to accept this retrospectively. Instead, consider alterations to contracts with consent to permit you to deduct from employees’ holiday entitlement in such circumstances.
- Is there is any obligation to pay employees if a workplace is closed?
Yes. When severe winter weather has made it necessary for an employer’s business to close and employees remain willing and able to attend for work they are, in principle, entitled to be paid.
- What if employees are able to get in to work, but need time off to care for dependants?
Employees are entitled to unpaid time off to care for dependants, but this is only to deal with emergencies. If closure was foreseeable, or continues on, employees should make alternative childcare arrangements and return to work. If they do not, such absences would then become unauthorised.
- Whose responsibility is it to clear the way to keep businesses open?
Our local councils are on standby to ensure they are ready to clear ice and snow on thousands of miles of local roads, to keep emergency services running smoothly, and to improve conditions so that people can get to and from work safely.
- What happens if I clear pavement outside my business and someone slips?
Pavements are not such a critical priority for council workers, but important nevertheless. There is actually no law preventing snow and ice being cleared from pavements which means, in fact, that anyone can do it! And the message rings loud and clear: the council needs your help.
But … if you clear the pavement and it ices over, and someone slips and falls, does that mean you are liable?
Well, the good news is: No, this is very unlikely.
Provided that you are careful, use common sense and do not do anything which would be likely to cause harm or distress to others, it is very unlikely that you will be found responsible for any accidents.
- Should I have a Bad Weather Policy?
Yes! Employers should consider introducing a Bad Weather Policy. This can save a lot of frustration and business disruption if it’s well thought out and clearly backed up by systems and processes that can keep your business running, even through the darkest and deepest snow storms.