When should employees stay home to build a snowman?
As climate change brings unpredictable weather patterns and extremes, it has never been so important for businesses to have an adverse weather policy. Organisations must balance the need for business continuity against the requirement to avoid unnecessary risk.
Without an adverse weather policy, employees may be uncertain about the rules that apply during harsh weather such as snow, ice, fog, floods or extreme heat. As people’s responses to weather can be highly subjective, it’s important to be clear about your expectations for attendance and behaviour.
According to the Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR), adverse weather can have profound impacts on the economy. A drop of just one degree Celsius in minimum average temperature costs the UK economy £2.5bn; since 2006, CEBR calculates that spells of very cold weather have reduced GDP growth by 0.6 percentage points.
As adverse weather can impact on staff productivity, supply chains, overhead costs and consumer behaviour, it is important to adopt a tailored policy to minimise this risk to your business. What are the main points an adverse weather policy should cover?
Your policy should explain that all employees have a responsibility to protect their own safety and avoid risky behaviour. This will help to protect you from liability for accidents caused by employees failing to act with common sense; for example, by carrying heavy boxes across an icy part of your site, or having a snowball fight with colleagues.
Managers’ responsibilities should also be made clear. Managers will know the specific risks and factors for their department. They should be a main point of contact and while it would be helpful for them to share information about things such as travel updates, police advice and weather forecasts, this is not always their direct responsibility.
When is it reasonable for employees to skip a day of work on account of adverse weather, and how will that missed day be viewed? Many companies institute a flexible approach to workers arriving a little late or leaving early if they are likely to experience problems travelling to and from work. You could require workers who have a long commute to discuss this with their managers before deciding not to travel.
Depending on your preference, you could simply let workers stay at home on a paid leave basis, or offer unpaid leave, time off in lieu, a flexitime solution or a mixture of these. Sometimes it is possible for an employee to attend an office closer to home to carry out their duties, rather than attending their usual place of work. Adopting a policy on attendance before adverse weather strikes will help to avoid HR headaches and disagreements.
- Working from home
Now that many companies have cloud-based systems and security-enabled devices, workers are increasingly able to work from home rather than struggle to make it to the workplace against the elements. Investing in the technology required to make home-working feasible can really pay off if a prolonged cold snap hits.
You may wish to consider management practices for homeworkers in your policy to ensure that standards do not slip. Supervision can take place by phone or video conference, or via a collaboration package.
- Office closure
If weather becomes really bad, you might decide to close down operations altogether. While this can be necessary in some circumstances, it can also be very costly for the business and inconvenient for clients and customers.
Consider developing a plan to inform key stakeholders of your closure, together with a plan for catching up on any backlogs when workers return if the office is closed for a considerable period.
Extreme weather can often hit at short notice. You need to ensure that you have a communications plan, which is shared with employees so they know how they will find out whether the office is open or any other arrangements.
Email, text or a message on your website may be the best option for your company, depending on your circumstances. It’s crucial to be clear about what the business expects from employees and how it will tell them of its decisions.
- Special circumstances
Not all employees are the same. It’s important to appreciate that some workers will have caring responsibilities; for example, they might need to stay at home with children if schools close. Other people may have disabilities such as arthritis which can be exacerbated by cold weather, or make travel more hazardous.
Does your company have an adverse weather policy that effectively balances business continuity and risk management?