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Facing Snowbound Staff? Clear Policies and Sound Judgement Will Help Employers Deal With Attendance Issues

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With the so-called Beast From the East sinking its claws into the UK, many employers will be worried about implications for their business, particularly if staff live in remote or rural areas and are struggling to get to work in the ice and snow.

Clearly, employers will be concerned about the welfare of their colleagues who may be travelling to work in poor conditions, and there is a potential impact upon the businesses bottom line too. Many employers ask me where they stand legally if an employee cannot get to the office – should a worker be paid for the day?

The key lies in having detailed policies in place to cover adverse weather conditions and in making sure your staff know what they are and what is expected of them. It would be sensible to remind employers about the policy when a cold snap is approaching.

The policy should make it clear that:

  • Employees are expected to make every effort to get to work.  If they cannot, they should call the office in line with the absence policy
  • Employees who cannot attend the office will be expected to work from home, if their role allows
  • If employees are absent from work, they will be expected to make up any missed time
  • Employees are not entitled to be paid for such absence.  Employers may decide to include a clause saying that if a genuine attempt has been made to get to work, payment will be made to the employee
  • If the policy is breached, or of an employee is absent for no good reason, the employer may take disciplinary action

Legally, an employer may have a right to withhold wages if company policy is breached and as long as withholding pay doesn't go against the details of their employment contract. However, case law indicates that if the non-performance of work is involuntary and unavoidable, the employee may be entitled to their wages.

And in practice even if an employer has the legal right to dock pay, most bosses will look at the circumstances involved and make a reasonable judgement.

If staff are based in remote or rural areas which are likely to bear the brunt of bad weather it may be sensible and reasonable to make allowances, particularly if an employee has made efforts to get in to work, or if they have offered to make alternative arrangements.

When it comes to employer/employee relations there is more to consider than just the legalities. Withholding a colleague’s wages in what may appear to be unreasonable circumstance is likely to dent staff morale, it could damage the reputation of your firm and it may lead, in the future, to the abuse of sick leave.

Similarly, paying taking a blanket approach to paying employees who don’t appear for work may lead to colleagues swinging the lead in future. Therefore, when making a decision as to how to treat unavoidable absences due to weather and traffic disruption, you will need to consider:

  • The details of your company policies to ensure consistency;
  • Communicating with staff in advance if possible how absences will be managed;
  • The individual circumstances of the employee;
  • Reviewing how you may have handled similar situations previously.

If you would like to discuss the contents of this article further, please feel free to contact Natasha Johnston on 01792 525478 or by emailing: 

Natasha is a HR Advisor within JCP's HR Services team. The team provide outsourced HR support and ongoing advice and guidance to the firm's business clients. Natasha’s experience includes providing HR advice and guidance on complex HR issues such as attendance, grievance, capability and disciplinary matters.  Natasha can also provide advice and support on policy drafting and implementation, TUPE and Redundancy processes.