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Clear Attendance Policies Assist With Unpredictable Weather

View profile for Natasha Johnston
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Most HR departments will have to deal with the issue of poor attendance from time to time.  Unusual or unpredictable weather can add to that conundrum with absences that don’t fit neatly into many companies defined attendance management or unpaid leave provisions. Introducing a clear policy to manage such eventualities will help guide employees and assist line managers in managing such absences from the workplace. Natasha Johnson, HR Advisor at JCP Solicitors explains more:-

With the UK having faced some unpredictable weather conditions this year, from extreme heat, to sudden snowfall and gale force winds, we have seen in increase in queries from businesses who have been worried about the implications for their business and the wellbeing of their staff when trying to tackle the extreme weathers to get to work and deliver the business objectives once they have got there.

Clearly, employers will be concerned about the welfare of their employees, but there is a potential impact upon the business’ 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 particularly if they live in remote or coastal areas and genuinely struggle to get to work in hostile weather conditions?  

The key lies in having policies in place to cover adverse conditions and in making sure your staff know the policy and what is expected of them. 

The policy should make it clear that: 

  • Employees are expected to make every effort to get to work.  If they cannot, they should notify you of their absence prior to their scheduled start time.
  • Whether home working will be permissible if their role allows, it is often best practice to advise employees of this in anticipation of weather disruption so that they make take any documents or IT equipment home in advance.
  • How any absence will be managed and whether they will be expected to make up any missed time or be paid for such absences, some employers opt to include a policy provision that allows for payment if a genuine attempt to get to work has been made.
  • When other policy provisions may apply to an absence e.g. school or nursery closures that prevent attendance instead of the weather preventing an employee from attending work. 
  • The ramifications if the policy is breached, or how an absence will be managed if there is no genuine reason for the absence.

An employer may have a right to withhold wages if company policy is breached and there is a clear provision for the deduction in the contract of employment. However, case law indicates that if the non-performance of work is involuntary and unavoidable, the employee may be entitled to their wages. 

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

For instance, if staff are based in remote or coastal areas which are likely to bear the brunt of any expected extreme weather it may be sensible and reasonable to make allowances, particularly if an employee has made efforts to get into work, or if they have offered to make alternative arrangements.  

It is also prudent to consider employer/employee relations in addition to your legal stance an employer. Withholding wages in what may appear to be unreasonable circumstance is likely to dent staff morale or damage the reputation of your company.  In the future, it may also result in the abuse of sick leave.  

That said, taking a blanket approach to paying employees who don’t appear for work may lead to others 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.johnston@jcpsolicitors.co.uk

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 also delivers training on HR topics and in recent months has been focussing on GDPR compliance for local businesses. Alongside our Corporate team, Natasha has developed a range of fixed price HR documents to help businesses comply with their obligations in accordance with the GDPR.

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