By Susan Evans, partner at law firm Lester Aldridge LLP
After a wet Christmas and mild New Year, the cold snap is set to hit the country once more, with temperatures predicted to reach as low as -10 and snow forecast in many areas. Inevitably, this will result in travel disruption and employees unable, or unwilling, to get to work.
You may find that some of your employees go to great lengths to get to the office despite the cold and a journey of perhaps several hours. However, others may seize the opportunity to have a duvet day. How do you deal with this?
Must I pay my employees if they do not make it into work?
This depends on whether the employee has a contractual right to be paid in these circumstances.
You should look at the terms of their employment contract, any policies you may have and any custom or practice which might have developed. What approach have you taken in relation to previous severe adverse weather or disruption caused by train strikes? There is an argument that you should be consistent.
In the absence of any such rights, the employee is not entitled to be paid. You could request that employees take this time as part of their annual leave entitlement, or as unpaid leave.
Can I choose to pay my employees anyway?
Absolutely! You may decide to pay your employees even if they don’t make it into work. The positive morale and good publicity from this additional benefit may justify the inevitable cost. It may also deter employees from being tempted to call in sick and instead make more of an effort to come in.
Employers can treat staff on a ‘case by case’ basis. However, should you choose to approach the issue in this way, bear in mind that an employee may try to claim that this is discrimination. For example, don’t pay all full time staff who didn’t come in to work, but withhold pay from your part time staff! It is far safer and better practice to treat staff consistently.
How can I prepare for any future disruption?
This latest bout of bad weather won’t be the last. There is no doubt that at some point in the future, we will face disruption again on account of transport problems due to weather or strikes. Prevention is better than cure, so be ready:
- Think of ways around the disruption - arrange lift shares for employees or provide taxis to collect employees.
- Be flexible - give employees the capability to work from home or allow alternative working patterns.
- Implement a policy which clearly sets out what will happen if these circumstances arise. Will employees be paid? Will it count as annual leave?
- Have reporting requirements in place to ensure that staff notify you promptly if they cannot get into work.
- Have contingency plans to make sure your business can function if a large number of staff are absent at any one time.
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