August 30, 2016

Five principles for effective absence management during bad weather

Effective absence management is a year-round consideration for employers, but it can be a particular problem during periods of miserable weather.

While it’s never fun to think of winter during the height of summer, sensible employers know they need to plan ahead for the darker seasons.

Yes winter is coming, and it could be even colder and snowier than usual.

Advanced weather models are predicting months of heavy snowfall, with conditions expected to mirror those of winter 2009/10 – the so-called “the Big Freeze”, when London came to a standstill and Manchester hit lows of -17.3C – for the length and chilliness of the winter.

Staff absences tend to rise dramatically during extreme weather as road and rail disruption, combined with school closures, make it difficult for employees to make it in to work.

Effective absence management and flexible working options can help maintain staff productivity and reduce the cost to businesses.

Every business and employee is affected differently, so here’s five principles for effective absence management you can put into action now.

1. Let employees know what is expected of them

If you do not have an adverse weather policy or procedure in place now is the time to develop one.
Having clear plans in place will help you prepare for any possible difficulties and it will also inform your employees of what is expected from them in these situations.

The legislation

Employers and employees alike are often unclear about what they are legally obliged to do if adverse weather prevents employees from attending work, so to simplify:

There isn’t any specific legislation that covers adverse weather, so normal legislation applies:

• Employees are responsible for getting themselves to work and should make every effort to attend as normally.
• They are not entitled to be paid if they do not make it in to work.
• If the employee arrives at work late, they are not entitled to be paid for the time not worked.

2. Be flexible where possible

Be as flexible as possible.

Deducting pay could have a long term impact on productivity and employee morale, so offering the following alternatives is likely to be much more effective:

• Arrange for employees to work from home or at an alternative office/site if possible.
• Consider altering working times in agreement with employees wherever this is possible.
• Allow employees to take any outstanding lieu time or flexi-time if available.
• Allow employees to take the time off as holiday, if available (although remember that employers cannot require employees to take holiday entitlement at short notice).

3. Be fair

You will expect employees to turn up for work by whatever reasonable means is available to them.

However, this must be at their own discretion: this can depend on the weather conditions in their own area, the availability of transport, and whether the journey would add risk to their personal safety.

Employees who live within a close distance of their workplace can be expected to attend for work wherever it is possible for them to walk, although whether or not it is ‘possible’ is a matter for consideration between the employer and the employee.

Things you will need to consider in this situation are as follows:

• The distance involved to get from the employee’s home to the workplace.
• The weather conditions.
• The time of day.
• The general health of the employee.

4. Be Consistent

Ensure you treat all employees the same to avoid any claims of discrimination. Female employees are likely to show that adverse weather impacts them more than their male counterparts, as they are likely to have primary caring responsibility for children and/or dependants.

Ensure you take this into consideration – especially if you decided to deduct pay for time absence.

5. Prepare for school closures

In the event of unexpected school closures, parents are entitled to take dependants leave to find alternative childcare arrangements.

Employees are not entitled to be paid for such leave.

What if you believe employees are falsely blaming the weather?

If you feel an employee is using the bad weather as an excuse to come to work late or not come, this should be dealt with through your usual disciplinary procedure.

If you would like to develop an adverse weather policy, or need any specific advice on managing employees during adverse weather conditions, please contact the team or call 0844 391 1921.

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About the author

Gillian Smith

Gill has over 10 years HR generalist experience within the retail and industrial service sectors.Whilst providing HR support and services at the most senior levels Gill’s experience includes mergers and acquisitions, complex TUPE transfers, organisational development, and strategic change management. Gill has experience in the policy development process from design, consulting with directors and employee representatives through to implementation and delivering training workshops on the new polices. Gill currently is an HR policy consultant who services a variety of clients.