Preparing for workplace issues over the Winter months

Nov 9th, 2018

After the long and wonderful summer we all had, it was only a matter of time before the foggy mornings set in and the long winter coats came out.

Whilst winter is an exciting time with, dare I say it, Christmas just around the corner, it can bring up some issues for employers. If potential issues are addressed in advance, it can help ensure effective management of your workforce.

Adverse Weather and Travel Disruption

Severe weather can cause headaches for employers and employees alike, with events such as the big freeze leading to a disruption to the business when employees are unable to get to work due to snowy weather.

It is recommended that employers have an Adverse Weather and Travel Disruption Policy in place which sets out clear guidelines on what is expected of employees in the event that adverse weather hits and that such policy is communicated clearly to all staff. The policy should also include:

  • In what circumstances the business may have to close;
  • What happens if the workplace has to be closed;
  • How employees will be informed of any closures or alternative arrangements;
  • Provision for home working;
  • Any other flexible arrangements i.e. late start, early finish; and
  • Consequences for non-attendance.

Employees are not automatically entitled to paid leave in the event they are unable to attend work due to adverse weather. However what if the workplace is closed? This should all be set out clearly in your policy.

Particular regard should be given to employees who are unable to attend work due to school or nursery closure as a result of adverse weather. As an employer you should have a Time off for Dependant’s Policy which your Adverse Weather Policy can refer to. In these circumstances, employees are entitled to unpaid time off work to deal with emergency situations relating to their dependants such as school or nursery closures.

Overall, the key is for employers to try and be flexible in such situations. As an employer you may be able to offer home working to your employees in which case you will need to consider whether employees are equipped to work from home. In other cases you could agree late starts and early finishes as we have set out above.

Holiday Requests

Seasonal celebrations often result in a flurry of holiday requests as people try to use untaken holiday before the end of the holiday year (if your business has a calendar year of January to December). This can cause a number of problems for businesses, not least staff shortages.

What steps can you take as a business if this does happen? You could consider introducing a policy which requires holidays to be taken at certain times of the year i.e. Christmas shutdown. Ensure you have a policy on Holidays which clearly sets this out and ensure it is communicated to all staff so they are aware of the risks of not taking annual leave (especially in a “use it or lose it” situation). Secondly, does your business allow for carry forward of holidays? If so, make sure this is clearly set out in your policy, set out how many days holiday can be carried forward and when they need to be used by. Remember, the law allows certain situations when holiday can be carried over i.e. where a period of statutory maternity leave has prevented the employee from taking their full entitlement.

Flu and Colds

With the winter weather setting in, seasonal flu and colds unfortunately come hand in hand which can also lead to increased levels of sickness and subsequently, staff shortages.

What can you do as an employer? Firstly, ensure you have an up to date Sickness Absence Policy in place which sets out the procedure for employees to follow in the event they are unable to attend work due to sickness. Ensure employees know where to find the policy and ensure the requirements are communicated to employees.

Employees should either complete a self-certificate explaining their short-term sickness, or obtain a Statement of Fitness for Work (Fit Note), where the absence lasts for seven days or more.

For help on drafting any of the policies mentioned above, please do not hesitate to contact a member of the Employment Team.

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