A company policy on absence due to bad or inclement weather should address the situation where employees are unable to attend work, or organisations do not have work available, due to weather-related circumstances outside of their control.
Legally, employers do not have to pay employees for days that they do not work. However, it is important to be aware of any custom and practice in the organisation or contractual clause, which may override this position.
Companies may need to examine situations where employee make an effort to come into work and are delayed or have to leave early in order to avail of limited public transport, or where weather conditions deteriorate during the working day. In certain instances it may be feasible for employees to do a certain amount of work from home rather than having to travel to company site.
Where a site is no longer accessible employers need to consider the way to communicate this to employees. At all times, safety considerations must be paramount.
When employees cannot attend for work
Employers have various options to consider when deciding how to treat the periods of time when employees are unavailable for work due to inclement weather or other natural events. The company’s approach should ideally be clarified beforehand in a company policy or, in the absence of a policy, discussed with the employees as the situation arises. It is critical that managers are urgently informed of the organisation’s position, so that consistency operates.
The policy should reinforce normal notification procedures, and/or provide a set adapted for unusual circumstances.
- Where an employee has the capacity to carry out their work from home for the duration of the disruption, this should be agreed with his or her line manager. This will not be feasible for a number of roles where the employee’s presence is required. This may also put pressure on the organisation’s IT infrastructure as demand increases.
- Where an employee cannot attend and cannot carry out his or her normal duties, the options of annual leave or unpaid time off should be presented. Daily approval of this should be required.
- Where employees arrive late or leave early, whilst some flexibility may be provided, employers need to consider paid leave where the employees will work up the time missed at a later date, preferably within one month of the occurrence. This is usually more feasible in organisations that already operate a flexi-time system. Alternatively, the option of unpaid leave or annual leave (broken into hours) may be considered.
- Where an employee is away on company business and unable to make it back to the site in Ireland, it may be possible for them to work electronically from a remote location. Employers should facilitate, where appropriate, for the employee to work from an international office. Any additional expenses (eg, accommodation, meals) incurred by the employee during this time may be paid by the employer.
- Should an employee be on annual leave when a weather-related event occurs and is unable to return to work due to travel restrictions, employers may use a pragmatic approach and allow the employee to extend their annual leave or authorise unpaid leave during this time.
- In the case of schools or crèches closing, an emergency leave situation may result for some staff. This does not fall under the legal definition of force majeure leave. Where the employee is unable to make alternative arrangements, annual leave or unpaid leave could be considered on a case-by-case basis.
Reduction in work
An employer’s business may be severely affected by unforeseeable weather conditions resulting in a reduction in work or no work available for employees. In these circumstances, a lay-off situation or short-time working may arise. Employers who have reserved the right to place employees on lay-off or short-time working in their contracts of employment may utilise this clause. Otherwise, agreement should be sought from the employees to place them on these forms of temporary work patterns.
There may be a requirement, given a certain level of absence, to redeploy staff from one part of the business to another to maintain core business operations. Employers should identify the essential and non-essential aspects of the business so that possible requirements for redeployment are identified early. Where an aspect of the business is deemed non-essential, the issues associated with redeploying employees to more critical areas should be examined, including contractual issues. Ideally, time permitting, a policy on redeployment should be developed in consultation with employees/representatives to ensure a smooth transition where required. It is essential that appropriate training for unfamiliar tasks is given to employees, and health and safety considerations must be paramount.
Consideration needs to be given to sources of alternative labour where a key section of the operation is absent. Central to this is a co-ordinator who is in a position to identify the parts of the operation under stress. Sources of alternative labour are most likely to be those who live in proximity to the organisation, and may include individuals who have left the organisation, as well as agency staff, and the applicant pool. Promoting the need for additional temporary resources to employees may help to identify people who live locally. Social networking and web sites may also be particularly useful communications tools.
Significant absences may also lead to certain employees working longer hours to support the business but employers need to be mindful of the breaks and rest period requirements of the Organisation of Working Time Act 1997.
It is important that employers carry out a “stress test” to identify the effect of prolonged bad weather on the business and its continuity. How your business would cope if you had 10% absenteeism? 20% absenteeism? What if an entire department was absent? Against this is the consideration of changes in demand as client and customer demands reduce/increase as a result of different weather patterns.
Some employees may fail to attend for work when suitable public transport is in operation. Unless authorisation has been received, this is not a justifiable reason for absence and should be dealt with under the company’s disciplinary procedure, as with any unexcused absence.
Employers should also familiarise themselves with the Be Winter-Readycampaign for 2016-2017 launched by the Emergency Planning Office, in the Department of Defence. Visit http://winterready.ie/ for their important health and safety advice and guidance for the business sector.
Thursday, 12 January 2017