We are currently in the midst of one of the harshest winters on record with more snow forecast. This will inevitably raise a variety of issues in the workplace for employers to deal with. It is important for employers to maintain consistency and fairness in their dealings with staff. Failure to do so may expose them to disharmony in the workplace or even worse, litigation in the Employment Tribunals.
It will be rare for an employer to have an actual policy or contractual term to cover adverse weather conditions. Therefore the starting point for both employers and employees is that there is no legal entitlement to pay if an employee is unable to get into work due to adverse weather conditions. Whilst this is not a policy that we would always recommend from the outset, on a strict application of the law, employers are not obliged to pay employees who are unable to get to work. However, such an approach without prior warning would not be conducive to good morale in the workplace. The sensible and pragmatic advice would be to consider alternatives such as allowing employees to adopt flexible working arrangements, working from home, to work at another branch or site or even using holidays.
What of employees with children who are either unable to attend school or sent home from school? This will inevitably lead to childcare issues. Firstly, employees with childcare responsibilities have the right to reasonable unpaid time off to allow them to deal with emergency situations concerning their children. The important point here is to bear in mind that the absence is only intended to allow for alternative arrangements to be made and not to allow the parent to care for the child. Once again however, we would recommend some flexibility and common sense on the part of both employers and employees to agree practicable workable solutions. Employers should be especially wary that they are not exposing themselves to claims of indirect sex discrimination by the manner in which they handle requests for flexible working.
What of an employee who is suspected of abusing the system? If an employer has reasonable grounds to suspect that an employee may be abusing the flexibility allowed by his employer, we recommend that the employer activates a disciplinary investigation in accordance with the employer’s handbook, policy or manual. If there are grounds for doing so, the employer should then adopt a formal disciplinary process.
Yunus Lunat is head of Employment Law and may be contacted on 0113 284 5000 or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org