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Dealing with employees unable to attend work due to the Yorkshire floods

I think everyone would agree with me when I say that the floods that have hit parts of Yorkshire have been devastating. However problems arise when employees come into work late or cannot physically get into work due to disruptions with transport, school closures and severe weather warnings. This situation gives rise to the following questions:

1. What are the rights of employees and 

2. How can employers ensure that they apply a fair policy given the circumstances of an individual and taking into account their business needs.

Here’s a guide to help you all get it right. 

What rights do employees have if they cannot get into work?

If employees cannot genuinely get into work due to floods (our current adverse weather condition) then employers should not try to convince them to ignore severe weather warnings or ask them to walk to work (you may all laugh but a friend of mine was once told that he should continue walking until he finds a bus that’s running and he ended up walking for 3 hours in the snow!) 

Technically (unless an employment contract states otherwise) an employee is not entitled to be paid for work unless they fulfil their contractual obligations (i.e. turn up for work) however before an employer decides that any absence will be unpaid they should consider the options below. 

What options are available for employers?

There are three options available for an employer:

1. Allowing the employee to work from another location: larger institutions will have several locations, perhaps look at whether the employee can work from a location nearer their home address or providing it is appropriate allow the employee to work from home.

If the employee has a blackberry and remote access through their PC or laptop then working from home should seriously be considered. Clearly a concern for employers will be whether the employee takes ‘working from home’ to mean a day in bed– this could be overcome by having a ‘Working from Home Policy’ and some level of contract during the course of the working day. 

2. Flexible working or leave: Give employees the option to take annual leave (however employers should not impose this), make the time up or take the time as unpaid leave particularly if the reason for not being able to come into work is to take care of a dependant. 

Employees with childcare responsibilities, older or disabled relatives are given the statutory right to take time off to deal with ‘unforeseen events’ (such as school closures) for dependants this does not however provide them with the right to take extended leave but only to take off a reasonable amount of time to allow employees to deal with unforeseen event. Employers should look at a combination of paid and unpaid leave (employers should be guided by the employee contract of employment/statement of particulars). 

3. No pay for periods of lateness and/or absence: Employers should use this as the last resort and they should inform all employees that this is going to be the case (employers please ensure that you check all employment contracts to ensure that any deductions do not amount to being an unlawful deduction of wages, or it may give rise to constructive unfair dismissal claims). 

What happens if an employer closes the office due to the adverse weather condition?

If this is the case then employees should be paid their full contractual pay as they could not fulfil their contractual obligations. 

What if employees are abusing the policy put into place?

If employers think their employees are taking abusing the company policy then the matter should be investigated under the company disciplinary procedure and if proven this could be regarded as an unauthorised absence. However before any employer instigates disciplinary action please take legal advice to ensure that you do not open yourself up to a claim for unfair dismissal. 

Practical considerations for employers:

– Ensure you implement any policy in respect to adverse weather conditions fairly and consistently, while taking into account the particular needs and circumstances of individual staff members. 

– If it is reasonable and practical offer employees that are able to attend work overtime and/or holidays in lieu to ensure that your business needs are continually met. 

– Recognise employees who have managed to attend work (this can be as inexpensive as a small gift voucher or perhaps an employee of the month award). 

– If you do not have an ‘Adverse Weather’ or ‘Working from Home’ policy, get one in place either by amending current contracts and/or sickness absence policies or putting new policies in place. 

– Always consider how your actions will affect the morale of your work force – after all a successful business is one with a happy workforce! 

If anyone would like to contact me in relation to any of the above please feel free to do so on 0113 350 4030 or at samira.cakali@scesolicitors.co.uk

Samira Cakali

Samira Cakali is a pragmatic and approachable solicitor advocate with extensive contentious and non-contentious experience in the fields of employment law as well as civil litigation, within a range of commercial businesses from SME’s to multinationals as well as senior executives.

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