Following the disruption caused by the recent adverse weather conditions, the ICAEW are advising small businesses to put in place contingency plans and ensure employees are fully aware of ‘bad weather’ policies in place.

Clive Lewis, Head of Enterprise at ICAEW, said: “Obviously small businesses affected by bad weather conditions first priority is to get back on their feet and start trading as soon as possible. But whilst last weeks erratic weather is still fresh in their memory they need to think how better they might react and what reasonable measures could be taken to alleviate the effects. This means making sure that staff know what to do if bad weather strikes”.

Employees are fundamental to business growth and losing key staff because of the weather can be very damaging, particularly in the current economic climate. Employee absenteeism represents a huge cost for small businesses.

Road closures and lack of public transport during bad weather can make commuting impossible for some staff. School closures can mean many parents have to stay at home to look after children, thereby missing further days at work.

Many businesses, as part of their business continuity planning, maintain a database of employees’ contacts, including their personal mobile numbers to use in the event of emergencies. This information can be used in bad weather to enable staff to communicate their whereabouts, their situation regarding travelling to work and the likelihood that they will turn up for work.

Contingency planning might also include plans for flexible working and consideration of staff working from home. Employees should make every reasonable effort to get into work but should not attempt to travel if it is not safe to do so, particularly in isolated areas. In addition, employers should keep an eye on the weather in the afternoon, taking care that workers do not get trapped at work and put at risk as weather conditions worsen. Any policies though should be clearly communicated to staff. Businesses are not helped by staff taking extended travel home or sleeping in department stores as happened last winter.

The Trades Union Congress (TUC) claims that it is ‘bad practice’ not to pay staff or force them to take holidays when they cannot get in, as this would cause resentment among those who have been kept away from work through no fault of their own. If they do not come into work, employees do not have a general legal right to expect payment. However, having a ‘bad weather’ policy in place means staff who are kept away from work are still paid.

Mr Lewis adds: “With SME’s facing a tough winter with the VAT increase and slow recovery, loyal and experienced staff are crucial assets. Make sure they know what is happening to the business, if and when bad weather hits this winter”.

As part of a crisis management and business survival plan, accountants can help clients deal with managing different risks - from ensuring that the business remains able to operate when premises are put out of use to ensuring the insurance cover is adequate.