How employers can turn “snow worries” into “no worries”
Snow has been forecast for many parts of Scotland this week. I suspect that, as usual, Dundee will escape the predicted snow fall however, with that forecast in mind, employers would be well advised to take pro-active steps when considering the repercussions of bad weather.
Absent employees – No dough
Employees are required to attend work even in extreme weather conditions. If an employee is unable to attend work because of bad weather, an employer is generally entitled to treat the absence as unauthorised and is under no obligation to pay that employee. Having said that, it is always preferable to make employees aware of any bad weather policy prior to the bad weather and best practice would be to have the policy clearly outlined in writing. Employers would be well advised to consider creating bad weather policies to cover these scenarios. Such policies should address how the employer will treat lateness due to bad weather and what will happen with regards to pay.
Closed workplace – No go
If an employer requires to close its premises at short notice due to extreme bad weather, in the absence of express written agreement the employer still requires to pay its employees their salary. Even if there is no work available as a result of bad weather and office closure, it would be unlawful to withhold pay without the employees’ consent in writing. Some employers have “lay-off” clauses in their staff contracts. Such clauses can permit employers to lay-off employees without pay. However these clauses can be relatively complicated and an employer should take legal advice about such a clause before attempting to operate it.
Untruthful employees – No snow
Occasionally employees will exaggerate the extent of the bad weather in their locality and might suggest that the snowfall is heavier than it is, in an attempt to enjoy an extra duvet day. If an employer discovers that an employee has lied about the weather in an attempt to avoid attending work, the employer would be entitled to take disciplinary action against that employee on the basis of misconduct. Before taking such action however, the employer would still require to conduct a full investigation and then reach a fair decision regarding the appropriate disciplinary sanction based on its reasonable belief.
School closures – No show
Whilst there is statutory protection for employees who require to take emergency leave as a result of childcare arrangements, school closures do not generally fall within this category. Emergency leave is available when there is an “unexpected disruption to childcare” and, unless there are specific applicable circumstances, this does not expressly include a school closure. Having said that, employers should try and be as flexible as possible with employees who are unable to attend work due to school closures. Employers might want to encourage employees to work from home on such occasions. Alternatively employers might want to permit employees to make up the time at a later date. It would however be important for an employer to adopt a consistent approach when dealing with such situations.
Ultimately the handling of bad weather procedures is an opportunity for employers to enhance staff morale and productivity in the workplace by considering solutions to the climatic conditions. Experience demonstrates that employers who deal with these issues in a fair manner have a happier, healthier workforce.
In the meantime, I intend to look out my snow shoes and walking poles in the event that I require to walk across the Tay Bridge at some point this week!Simon Allison Partner – Employment Law
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