Time for Employers to Get Winter Ready

The UK is well known for coming to a standstill once extremes of weather kick in. With winter on the horizon, now is the time to get ready for the employment related implications of the impending cold, frosty weather and the potential upheaval to business that snow can bring.

Unpredicted, unusual weather often leaves employees in a spin as to whether they should be putting themselves at risk by tackling icy conditions to get into work. There is also the question as to whether staff who cannot make it in due to transport problems should be paid; what happens if you decide to close the premises and what obligations employers have for keeping staff safe and comfortable during cold weather spells. Let's take a look at all these issues.

The issue of pay

Where weather conditions are making it a challenge to get into work, employers are not under any obligation to remunerate staff for missed days. Whilst it is not the fault of the employee that they cannot make it in, neither is it the fault of the employer.

If you wish to maintain good relations with staff and to avoid causing them financial difficulties, you could offer to allow them to take the time as paid leave from their annual leave entitlement; or to make up the time in other ways, perhaps by getting in early or staying later once the weather has improved.

If you decide to close during inclement weather, it is customary to pay regular wages, unless it states otherwise in the contract of employment.

You could of course allow employees to work from home; getting key personnel set up for remote working is an excellent strategy which will help to keep your business running at all times of the year.

The issue of childcare

Where workers with parental responsibilities are forced to take emergency time off because nurseries or schools are closed due to bad weather, this is a situation where there is an official entitlement to take unpaid leave. The time taken should be used to arrange alternative care for the dependent, rather than actually take care of them themselves.

The issue of working conditions

For working environments where roles are stationary, the temperature must be at least 16 degrees Celsius. For active roles, the temperature must be a minimum of 13 degrees. This is according to Regulation 7 of the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992. If you have staff working outside during cold weather then you have a duty to ensure they are kept warm and hydrated.

Ensure frequent breaks; provide advice on how to stay hydrated without resorting to alcohol or caffeine; show employees the importance of warming up muscles before commencing strenuous work and be sure to provide protective clothing such as insulated footwear, headwear and gloves.

The issue of safety

It is vital that working conditions are safe for all workers. Make sure that slip hazards are minimised as far as possible by taking steps to clear ice and snow. If you have workers who are expected to drive as part of their role, ensure their vehicles are safety checked and equipped with torches, blankets, first aid kits, drinking water and other essentials. Also be sure to provide training in how to deal with typical cold weather related incidents.

The issue of communication

Ensure you have a policy in place that sets out your expectations at times of extreme weather conditions. Without it, your workforce will be unclear as to the rules. Bear in mind the effect that adverse weather has on the overall supply chain, overheads and staff productivity when setting your policy so that you work to minimise the risk to your business.

Make it clear as to the methods by which staff will be advised about premises closures and any special arrangements. It could be a notice on the company website or intranet; an email or a text message.

You can talk to your local bookkeepers for advice on how to deal with these issues in the first instance, and of course you should take legal advice when it comes to putting together your extreme weather policy.

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