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Saturday, 12 December 2015

Weathering the winter storms


We’re having more extreme weather more often, from severe flooding, as in Cumbria and Lancashire this week, to violent winds, to deep snow. These are dramatic times when public transport is cancelled or heavily delayed, the road system comes to a grinding halt and schools close. The only people able to get into work might be those walking from their home round the corner.

In the same way that we expect local authorities to have grit and spreading trucks ready before the roads are frosty, so making your contingency plans as an employer will head off future problems.

Create a policy and communicate it clearly

If it’s difficult or impossible for your people to travel to work because of the weather, most problems are avoidable if you make sure they know what the arrangements will be in advance.

Now is the time to decide on your bad weather policy if you haven't done already. Then: make sure everyone knows about it, and implement it fairly and equally across all areas of the business. An employee handbook written by The Human Resource will include your bad weather policy and will be useful to refer people to at such times.

Your managers will need to be clear about their responsibilities, and equipped to deal with questions and decisions consistently. You could discuss the policy and its implications with your managers at your next direct reports meeting.

Review your working from home arrangements

Allowing people to work from home can be a great solution to disruptive problems like bad weather, especially for key people. It can keep things going so that your business is able to keep up-to-date with essential work and meet minimum service level agreements.

Whether this is realistic will depend on your operational requirements, employees’ job responsibilities and home set-up. Many jobs adapt well to being e-enabled remotely, but for others it’s not practical. We recommend that you delegate responsibility for agreeing who can and can't work from home in an emergency to your line managers, working within a pre-agreed policy.

For people working from home in an emergency, organize beforehand:

  • How they will communicate with their managers and team
  • How they will access their work email from their home PC
  • Access to work databases, intranet etc
  • How to divert office phones to the home or mobile number of people working at home
  • Security measures for handling sensitive or confidential information outside the usual work setting
  • How managers will ensure that standards are maintained

Decide whether to pay staff if they can’t get into work

The majority of your staff will do everything within their power to get into work despite extremes of weather. But if travel disruption means that it will take someone over four hours, they’re very unlikely to be motivated and productive after travelling for so long in difficult conditions. You may also have employees who could walk into work in about 15 minutes but who choose not to when they see a heavy blanket of snow.

People working from home should be paid as usual. But if working from home isn't practical, you could allow people to take the time from their holiday entitlement, or to make up the time later.

In the last resort, if people can’t get to their usual place of work, the employer isn’t legally required to pay them. When the only option left is to deduct pay, make sure you apply the same policy consistently throughout the company. Consider business needs, but make sure that you’re also being fair and equal-handed.

Set up an emergency process to let people know if the workplace can’t open

Very occasionally the weather may be so extreme that it looks unlikely anyone will be able to travel into the office at all.

Perhaps one of your employees lives round the corner from work and can act as key holder and open up the workplace, if you make arrangements beforehand?

If not, as the business owner you’ll need to decide early in the day whether or not to open the workplace, so that there’s plenty of time to contact people before they set off. Cascade your decision down to your managers, and give them responsibility for contacting their team at home. This means that your managers will need to ensure they have numbers for their people so they can phone them in emergencies like this.

I know of a determined employee who set off early for work one morning after a blizzard to walk to her office five miles away. She battled her way along deserted snowbound roads, even the gritting lorries couldn't get through. Eventually four hours later she arrived at the office.... to find it closed. No one had let her know the office wasn’t opening. She had to turn round and walk back....

Many potential issues can arise for businesses just because it's winter, and you can minimize their impact by taking time to anticipate what you might have to deal with and ensure you’ve done all you can.

If you'd like help with any employment policy issues like this one, give us a call at The Human Resource for a no-obligation chat on 07884 475303.