Preparing for Adverse Weather

Nicola Mullineux

Nicola Mullineux

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21 Nov 2018

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As we enter into the winter season, it is important to prepare for the worst. The nights are getting darker, the chill is setting in and beginning to bite. Soon we’ll be facing frost, sleet, snow, and ice.

Preparing for these conditions in advance is a wise move, and is sure to help your business function properly during the winter.

Dealing with travel disruptions

The biggest issue employers worry about is the impact the weather will have on employees getting to work. Snow and ice in particular present a significant risk to drivers, obscuring vision and making some roads severely hazardous.

To protect your employees from these hazards, it is worth adding a statement to your adverse weather policy regarding health & safety responsibilities when travelling to and from work.

This statement will differ depending on the industry you work in, and what you expect of your employees, but it may state anything from employees being entitled to annual leave upon their safety being compromised, to reminding employees it is their duty to take reasonable care of their own health & safety during the commute. (We’ll discuss what you should include in your adverse weather policy slightly later on)

If alternative arrangements for work can be made, such as flexible working or working from home, it is definitely worth letting your employees know this option is available to them as soon as possible.

Some alternative arrangements you could make, are:

  • Allowing your workers to come in slightly later than usual
  • Allow flexible working
  • Offer shift swaps or overtime to workers who are able to make it into the office
  • Allow homeworking while the adverse weather persists
  • Allow workers to take time off as paid annual leave

It is important that you deal with any lateness empathetically and don’t take disciplinary action unless there is evidence the employee is taking advantage of the situation. False accusations contribute to a hostile working environment, and could lead to a claim of constructive dismissal if pushed too far.

How to prepare in advance

Provide clarity to employees. Before the adverse weather really kicks in, make sure you establish contact arrangements, as well as alternative arrangements if the employee cannot make it into work, and what will happen with regards to pay if the employee cannot work.

Making sure the employee knows where they stand with these issues will ensure there is no confusion should they be unable to get into work, which in turn means there is less likely to be significant disruption.

To be extra cautious, it is worth establishing:

  • How the employee should contact you if they are unable to come in
  • Any alternative travel options they could utilise
  • If they can work at an alternative site
  • If flexible working is viable for them
  • If home working is viable for them
  • If it is, what jobs should they do from home
  • Which jobs are urgent, and which should take priority
  • Arrangements for childcare should schools close

Last, but certainly not least, you should draft an Adverse Weather Policy if you haven’t got one already.

What to include in an Adverse Weather Policy

An adverse weather policy is your best defence against hazardous weather conditions and the resulting issues.

Here’s a basic outline of main points to cover in your policy:

1. Main Statement

Here, you should include a brief outline of what is expected of employees and what is expected of you as an employer. You can go into further details on employee and employer responsibilities in following points. Put forward some of the potential options you may offer to employees struggling to get to work, i.e. flexible working, overtime, shift swaps, and state that staff members may discuss the possibility of one of these options with their manager, or designated individual.

2. Employee Actions

Here, state that employees are expected to attend work if viable, but that you accept it isn’t always safe to do so and therefore employees should not put themselves or others at risk. Then, reiterate the contact method you previously established with employee

3. Employer Actions

Here, state what you will do as an employer to ensure the safety of your employees, including promotion of the adverse weather policy. State that managers should be fair in their judgement of individual’s circumstances, and should not offer incentives or disincentives to come to work. Reiterate yours and your managers’ commitment to employees’ health & safety and wellbeing in detail. If you wish to give managers power to let employees leave work early or close an office/department, state this here.

4. Notification of Closure

Here, you should state what will happen in the event a site will close. This includes how employees will be notified, as well as what they can expect in regards to receiving pay.

5. Alternative Arrangements (optional)

It is perfectly acceptable to state that any alternative arrangements should be discussed with a manager in the event of inability to attend work. However, it is often beneficial to go into further detail on the options available to the employee, including details on working from home, flexible working, making up time, shift swaps, overtime, and more.

6. Other Considerations (optional)

Finally, go over any other issues not covered in previous sections, such as disabled workers, essential roles in the workplace, staff who are already on leave, and where employees can get further information on adverse weather issues. (usually a HR individual within your workplace).

School closures and emergency situations

If an employee’s child’s school closes, the employee is entitled to unpaid time off to care for a dependant. There are other situations where an employee would be entitled to time off, including:

  • Caring for a disabled relative
  • A partner is injured as a result of adverse weather conditions

It is key in these scenarios that clear communication between yourself and the employee is established. As soon as the employee is able, they should contact you explaining what the issue is, as well as predicting how long they believe their absence will be.

You may agree with the employee that they can take this time off as annual leave so the employee does not miss out on pay. You and the employee must agree to these terms for them to be implemented.

Managing pay during adverse weather

Legally, you are not obligated to pay employees who do not come in to work when the workplace remains open. You are obligated to pay the employee if the individual usually gets to work via employer-provided transport which doesn’t run during bad weather however, especially if they were ready and willing to work.

You are obligated to pay employees their normal pay if you choose to fully or partly close the business. Or, if the employee comes in to work but you reduce their hours.

You are also obligated to pay employees if the office closes due to the absence of essential staff members, such as line managers. Or, if staff who provide access to work premises are unable to get to work.

You may pay absent employees discretionally, who aren’t legally entitled to pay, via an informal arrangement if you wish to do so. This should be arranged prior to the adverse weather that has caused the absence. To confirm pay arrangements, include these within your adverse weather policy so all staff understand what will happen to their pay in different scenarios.

Managing office temperature

Unlike periods of severe heat, there is a minimum workplace temperature of 16°C, or 13°C where the work involves considerable physical activity.

For employees working outdoors, there isn’t a legally defined minimum temperature, but you have a duty of care to all staff members. This means you cannot force employees to work in unsafe or unhealthy conditions. Carry out a risk assessment if employees are working in extreme weather, including the risk posed by the temperature and the wind chill factor, as these often make the cold even harsher.

Aside from cranking up the heating in the office, there are a number of things you could do to help address a cold working environment. You could:

  • Relax the workplace dress code, allowing employees to wear warmer clothing such as jumpers and cardigans
  • Be more lenient with breaks, allowing employees to go and make themselves hot drinks
  • Bring in portable heaters for your employees to use at their desks, or, allow employees to bring their own in from home.*

*Portable heaters pose significant health & safety risks, and so if any are to be used in the workplace you should first carry out a risk assessment to ensure they don’t pose a serious hazard.

Consider the effect cold temperature might have on vulnerable employees, such as pregnant workers. In some cases it may be better to send them home to protect their health if the risk cannot be effectively managed.

For employees working outdoors, you need to consider the risks and manage them appropriately. Some ways you can manage the risks, include:

  • Providing appropriate protective equipment
  • Train employees to recognise the symptoms of cold stress
  • Provide employees with frequent rest breaks and encourage the consumptions of hot food and drink.

If you know your employees are going to be working in extreme weather conditions, it is also recommended you set up a ‘buddy’ system, so employees can check up on one another.

Expert Support

If you are concerned about any of the above issues, or want advice on managing you workplace in extreme or adverse weather conditions, speak to a Croner expert on 01455 858 132

About the Author

Nicola Mullineux

Nicola Mullineux, as Group Content Manager, leads a team of employment law content writers who produce guidance and commentary on employment law, case law and key HR developments. She has written articles for national publications for over 10 years and regularly helps to shape employment of the future by taking part in Government consultations on employment law change.

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Nicola Mullineux

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