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Don't bury your head in the snow

Posted on 3rd December 2010
HR practice

As it looks likely that the wintery weather will continue to cause disruption into next week our message to you is not to bury your head in the snow but 'snow your rights'.

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Julie Temple Julie
Temple
Partner Telephone: 01473 694407

You should have a policy to dust off when the cold weather snaps

Inevitably there will be problems again with employees getting to work as well as dealing with child care as schools remain closed. 

Ideally, you should have a policy which can be dusted off when the cold weather snaps.  If you don't have one in place, what can and can't you do?

Can you discipline an employee who does not come to work because of bad weather?

You may be able to discipline an employee who does not communicate his or her absence in accordance with your company policy. If your employee doesn't come to work when he or she could have done so this is a potential breach of discipline. However, assumptions should never be made and you will need to conduct a reasonable investigation.

Disciplinary action would not usually be appropriate if the employee is exercising his or her statutory right to take time off to deal with a family emergency.

Do I have to pay an employee who does not attend work?

Generally, if employees do not attend work they are not entitled to be paid if the absence is unauthorised. Pay could potentially be withheld from an employee who has deliberately not attended work or who is taking time off under the right to time off for dependants. Any time off under this right is unpaid. 

Before any pay is stopped the contract of employment should always be checked. Care should also be taken not to differentiate between those unable to attend and those who would but can't because of a dependant. This could give rise to claims of less favourable treatment. 

Can you get your employee to use holiday?

This could be done by agreement and may be preferable to not being paid at all. Subject to the terms of the employment contract, holiday may also be imposed by you giving notice to the employee under the Working Time Regulations. Notice of twice the period of holiday to be taken must be given. For example, if you want an employee to take one day's holiday, two days' notice must be given. That said please ask us for advice if you want to try and use this statutory right.

What about health and safety?

In most cases you are not responsible for an employee's safety while travelling to and from the workplace.  This may not always be the case. Take an employee working at a place other than their usual place of work or travelling between branches or offices. In this case you are likely to be liable for the health and safety of the employee and should carry out a risk assessment. This may result in the employee being sent home or at least not travelling.

Be a good communicator!

In all cases, your employees will welcome clear guidance and details of your expectations when the weather turns nasty.  Stay in touch and keep conditions under review. Do not assume employees know what they should be doing. Some of our clients use Twitter or post bad weather arrangements on their website or set up a telephone message to let staff know what is happening.

Employees are likely to appreciate the opportunity to work from home or a location closer to their home. Being flexible is no doubt the best option.

Offering practical and reasonable solutions will be appreciated by your employees, particularly those travelling a distance in potentially treacherous and hazardous conditions.

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