How can employers mitigate the impact of severe weather?

As I sit and write this article, there are a high number of flood warnings for the Yorkshire Area. I have also seen a news article which states that we may have some snow in the next couple of weeks. Whilst the weather forecasts are not always spot on, as an employer, you need to ensure that you are proactive about how to deal with adverse weather.

I think we all accept that if it snows long and hard there are bound to be disruptions; day nurseries and schools may close, as may your business – after all, who will operate them if no one can get to the workplace? Some employees may struggle to get to work in adverse weather. I live in Holmfirth and have a 4 wheel drive but when it really snows, I cannot get anywhere despite my 4 wheeler with its flashy “hill descent control”.

There are certain steps you can take to mitigate the impact of bad weather, so that once it starts causing employee disruption, you know how you are going to manage the situation:

Plan ahead
If you don’t already have one in place, developing an adverse weather policy and discussing this with your employees is an ideal way to ensure that everyone is aware of their responsibilities and options. The clearer you are with employees regarding their options in bad weather, the lesser the impact it will have on the workplace.

Make sure all managers are aware of what to tell employees and ensure that everyone is given the same message. Consider your duty of care to employees and ensure that you are not asking individuals to come into work or remain at work if there is a health and safety risk when travelling.

Reporting Absence 
Remember that it is an employee’s responsibility to report for work on each day they are contracted to work. If an employee simply can’t get there due to the weather then you need to think through how you will deal with the employee’s absence. You could consider the following options:
Bullet point - ArrowDoes the employee have any holiday leave left that they can use and is this acceptable to you?
Bullet point - ArrowCan the employee make up the time lost at another date that fits with the business needs?
Bullet point - ArrowCan the employee work remotely, such as from home on this occasion? (Naturally, this will depend on the job role)
Bullet point - ArrowAlternatively, the time off can be taken as unpaid leave.

Caring responsibilities
If schools and day nurseries are closed, some employees may have little option but to stay at home to look after their children if they have no other sources of care. How do you deal with that?

Employees have a legal right to take time off work (unpaid) to deal with an emergency or unexpected situation concerning a dependent. However, the amount of time that an employee can have off under this statute is “reasonable”. Usually one or two days will suffice while the employee makes other arrangements for care of their dependents.

Employers should be clear that this time off to care for dependents is only for a short limited period of time in an emergency situation and not for planned school or nursery closures.

Be flexible
As these situations happen so infrequently, you may want to allow employees to use some holiday leave or make up the time lost at another time in line with the examples previously given.

You could also consider allowing those who live furthest away from the office to leave work early to ensure they have a safe journey home. Check travel conditions and transport services so you can make an informed decision.

But what if…

…that employee who you think could have got to work despite the snow didn’t make it?

Ahh, this is a much asked question! The key is to investigate this thoroughly, speak to the employee, gather all the facts and then decide what action, if any, you will take. It could potentially be a disciplinary situation, but it’s a good idea to seek advice before you take action!

For further details and advice contact Helen Straw at