What to do in the event of extreme weather
Three major storms in the space of a week may seem unprecedented, and only a few years ago, it may well have been, but it is certain that major weather events will be happening more frequently and with them, associated disruption.
For businesses, two significant outcomes can be expected; employees (and in some cases, key staff) unable to access the workplace, and the workplace itself having to close due to the weather.
With this in mind, ACAS has issued advice for both employers and employees who might be concerned about the effect of travel disruptions due to the bad weather.
There are several things that employers can do when faced with weather-related disruption which will enable them to continue operating, albeit with changed parameters.
All businesses are different, and what works for some may not work for others, but suggestions and possibilities include:
Giving workers a bit of flexibility with arrival times if it looks as if the disruption will improve later
For those workers who can make it into the workplace, suggest they may want to swap shifts or perhaps work overtime to cover those who have been unable to.
For workers who have lost time, allow flexible working to let them make it up, or suggest that they take the time off as paid annual leave.
If there isn’t one yet, draft and implement a bad weather or travel disruption policy, including contact arrangements, alternative forms of working and what happens with pay if a worker is unable to get into work. This will give all employees an idea of where they stand if extreme weather affects transport systems.
For many employees who aren’t used to disruption caused by extreme bad weather, it may be confusing when considering what they can and can’t do regarding their place and terms of employment. Concerns for their own safety may be compromised if they feel that they have to attend the workplace no matter what, and can’t use their best judgement and knowledge of local conditions, which may be unknown to their employer in another location. Therefore, ACAS suggests:
If disruption to travel means that the employee cannot get into work, they should let their immediate manager know as soon as possible, either by telephone (directly or via the work absence line), email or social media messaging if this is enabled.
Assess the possibility and practicability of alternative travel options to reach the workplace
If contact can be established with the employer, the employee can ask whether they can agree flexible working arrangements such as arriving and leaving later or homeworking
If the employee cannot get into work by any means, they should consider any urgent work that needs to be covered and advise their employer so that this does not get overlooked.
They should also ensure that they are reachable in some way or other so that if a situation arises where their input or contribution is needed, they can be contacted.
What does the law say?
Employees don’t have an automatic legal right to be paid for working time missed due to travel disruption or bad weather. There is nothing to stop employers giving them this right if they so choose.
Employees do have the right to take unpaid time off in an emergency situation if a dependant is involved – this can include looking after a child if bad weather has forced the closure of their school.
If an employee is ready and available to work but the workplace is closed for whatever reason, they will be entitled to their normal pay for the time it’s closed.
The Met Office issues colour-coded weather warnings when severe weather is expected, and these can be helpful for employers who are assessing the likely effects on their businesses.
Most larger companies, by virtue of being long-established or having a dedicated HR department, will have had experience of severe weather and have a developed policy but smaller companies may not have the facilities or capacity to draft one that is legally compliant and fit for purpose. It’s therefore important that these smaller companies find a way to access legal and HR guidance that can enable them to have such policies put in place before they’re needed.
During the recent storms, high winds were accompanied by significantly higher rainfall which has led, in places, to roads, railway lines and stations being flooded. Employees who rely on public transport to get to work will find themselves affected by weather-based disruption and, depending on the geographical area from which a business’ workforce is drawn and the modes of transport they use, the business could profit from an analysis of the likely effect of disruption on various transport networks, both road and rail.
Loss of power
Another effect of severe weather that has been experienced during the three storms is the loss of power, sometimes for extended periods of time. Hitherto, this didn’t affect employers in a big way but with the recent rise in remote working following the COVID-19 pandemic, employees who rely on internet connectivity and laptops may find that beyond a certain point, they don’t have power for their computers and cannot work online. Employers who have devised and implemented a remote working strategy may wish to amend it to incorporate protocols in the event that an employee’s home loses power with no definite indication of when it will be restored.