Met Éireann has indicated that there is likely to be severe adverse weather affecting most parts of Ireland starting tomorrow. There are some indications that this may continue for at least the rest of the week and maybe into next week.
We have all been advised not to make unnecessary journeys, thus , what precautions should you put in place and what arrangements should you communicate to your employees?
What factors do you have to consider?
As an employer, you have a duty of care for your employees and you need to balance this with the continuity in the provision of service to your customers.
What you decide to do will depend on the nature of your business and the role of various employees in delivering critical/necessary and other services.
Think about the Nature of Your Work and that of Your Employees
The first place to start is the type of business you are in and the nature of the service provided.
Where the weather forecast presents danger in travelling, and we have been advised not to make unnecessary journeys, there is a risk to your employees therefore in coming in to work, thus, as an employer you have to take precautions and seek to make appropriate arrangements.
If you are a hospital, for example, you will have essential services to provide, but you could consider cancelling non-emergency or elective procedures. Thus, some frontline employees would be required to attend work, but others may not. In the case of back-office employees, a similar arrangement might be considered where some back-office employees are required to attend work to maintain back-office services, whilst others may not be required to attend work as these could be considered ‘unnecessary journeys’. In this case, those employees could possibly be asked to work from home instead, if that is feasible.
Obviously, the nature of your work and services provided (the operational needs of the business and the risks for the business) and the role that the employee has, must be taken into account, and balanced with the safety and the risks for the employees, where Met Eireann has advised that we should not take unnecessary journeys.
Overall, any determination about what precautions and what arrangements to put in place must balance the severity of the weather forecast v the needs of the business v the safety of the employees.
What Options do I Have?
You may decide to shut-down all or certain parts of the operations and not ask employees or certain employees to attend work. You can of course ask all or certain employees to attend work. You can ask employees to work from home.
Do I have to Pay Employees Who Aren’t at Work?
From an employment law perspective in regard to your obligation to pay employees;
- If you keep the place of work open, and the employee is asked to attend work and does not attend work, is late or leaves early, then you are not obliged to pay the employee for those hours not worked
- If the employee is asked to work from home, then they are paid for these hours as normal
- If you close the business (or sections of it), then you will generally be required to compensate the employee as normal, as it was through no fault of their own that they could not do their work.
However, you may want to consider some other options, such as employees taking an annual leave day, time-off-in-lieu, or unpaid leave or working the lost time back.
What about Lay-Offs?
In some cases, and as we had Storm Ophelia last year, some employers may simply not be able to afford to pay employees when their operations are closed due to weather issues. For example, construction and other companies, small businesses and so on, may not be able to afford to pay people during periods of shut-down.
In this case, employers may wish to notify their employees of the possibility of a lay-off from work, or short-time for a period of a few days, depending on the weather issues.
Communicate to Employees
If you discuss and communicate the options in advance, you may agree with employees to work back the time, take time in lieu, annual leave, unpaid leave or work from home, or reach another compromise that works two ways.
Are all Roles Treated the Same?
If the employee’s role is critical to the service provision and the business remains open, then the employee must make arrangements to be at work in order to be eligible to be paid.
If the employee’s role is not critical, then compromise arrangements such as working from home for some or all of the time combined with unpaid leave could be entered into.
What if the Adverse Weather Continues for More than a Few Days?
As the adverse weather is expected to continue, you may have to consider putting employees on notice of temporary lay-offs or short-time working arrangements.
Overall Assessment of the Situation
Each business and situation is different, so the above is a broad guideline only and the situation needs to be examined on a case-by-case basis.
Whichever option you adopt in response to the adverse weather, you need to ensure to implement the policy fairly and consistently, while taking into account the particular needs and circumstances of the organisation, individual departments, the employees as a whole and employees in specific roles or areas of the business.
Adverse Weather Policy
If you do not have an Adverse Weather policy or custom and practice on it, it would be useful to have one in place for the future, as it looks more and more likely we will be dealing with these weather events from time to time and more frequently than previously.
We can supply you with an Adverse Weather Policy, which can be customised to your needs, and all the HR policies you need for your organisation. If you would like to update your HR policies and procedures, or need to create some new ones, please get in touch.
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