With further snow and icy conditions forecast for the days ahead, a Wrexham employment solicitor has warned that the recent bad weather has caused chaos to more than the roads.
Gwyn Edwards, a Solicitor with leading North Wales and Shropshire law firm, GHP Legal, is advising employers to draw up a policy on working practices in severe weather to avoid confusion about the legal rights and wrongs of handling workplace closures and absent employees.
“Whilst the long cold spell this winter may be a one-off,” says Gwyn, “an open-ended policy could also cover a variety of disruptions that prevent employees getting to work, from other natural disasters to public transport strikes. So it is worth doing.
“No employer that has a good relationship with their employees wants to wield a heavy hand unnecessarily, but many companies across the region have this year been badly affected by staff not getting in to work in bad weather and bosses need to have clear rules about what happens in such circumstances.
“Employers are within their rights to withhold payment if an employee doesn’t appear for work because of severe weather, but to avoid this some employers have asked staff to work from home. However, unless such an option is written into staff contracts of employment, employers could find themselves in hot water on health and safety grounds or the lack of consultation leading to a variation of contract.
“Some employers have asked employees to take their enforced day at home as paid holiday, but again they should not do this unless they have given the employee the minimum statutory notice. Where an employee has dependants, for example at a school that is closed due to bad weather, they have a statutory right to a reasonable period of unpaid time off to look after them.
“The other side of the coin of course is where the workplace is closed because of severe weather, so preventing the employee from being at work. In this instance employers must pay staff if they work from home. If they don’t work from home they will effectively be entitled to be paid unless there is a provision in their contracts allowing for unpaid lay-off.
“Employment law is highly complex and changing all the time, so this could be a good time for employers to review their employment contracts and ensure they have every eventuality covered, even snow!”