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Website URL : http://www.acas.org.uk/index.aspx/www.hse.gov.uk/media/pdf/t/9/index.aspx?articleid=3553

Acas guidance for employers on workplace issues over winter months

Christmas robin Winter often brings its own set of workplace issues. Adverse weather conditions can lead to staff shortages due to travel disruption, and seasonal celebrations often result in a rush to book annual leave.

We all know it's going to happen but how many of us plan in advance? Our advice is: don't get caught cold - have clear policies around issues such as getting to work and taking leave requests and communicate those to staff now.

Top tips for employers

Adverse weather

What issues do you need to consider?

  • Employees are not automatically entitled to pay if unable to get to work because of bad weather
  • Have a clear policy - employees need to know what you expect from them in terms of getting to work
  • Be flexible where possible - for example, could you and your employees agree to temporarily alter working hours to minimise disruptions?
  • Use information technology to keep your business running. Can employees work from home?
  • Plan ahead - misunderstandings often lead to conflict so be clear!

For more information view Acas' adverse weather guidance.

Flu and colds

Winter colds and flu mean an increase in workers calling in sick.

  • Employers should ensure employees know when they have to contact work on the first day of sickness and should routinely hold back to work interviews when staff return.
  • Employees should either fill in a self-certificate explaining their short-term sickness or they should get a Statement of Fitness for Work (also known as a doctor's statement or 'fit note') if the illness lasts more than seven days. Acas' managing attendance guidance can help.

For more information view Acas' guidance - Managing attendance and employee turnover.

Holiday entitlements

Employers may get a flurry of holiday requests around Christmas and New Year.

  • When public holidays in the Christmas and New Year period fall on Saturdays and Sundays, alternative week days are declared public holidays.
  • There is no statutory entitlement to paid leave for public holidays

Most workers - whether part-time or full-time - are legally entitled to 5.6 weeks of paid annual leave. Additional annual leave may be agreed as part of a worker's contract.

  • Employers can set the times that workers take their leave, such as a Christmas shutdown.

For more information view Acas' leaflet - Holidays and holiday pay.

Wellbeing in the workplace

Winter can sometimes exacerbate conditions such as stress and depression. Spotting and doing something about troubled employees is an important business skill.

  • It's rare for someone to voluntarily talk about a mental health problem. Approaching a colleague who you feel may be suffering from a mental health issue is not easy. Try and arrange a moment to catch someone privately, and informally ask if they are feeling ok.
  • Make sure your line managers know how to respond to signs of stress. They may need the right training to help them handle difficult conversations and raise awareness of health issues.

Acas has a range of advice and guidance on health in the workplace including the Acas booklet - Stress in the workplace.

The Acas helpline - here to help

Acas' helpline gets hundreds of calls at Christmas and New year from organisations typically seeking advice on holiday entitlement, getting to work in bad weather or absenteeism.   

Our helpline was recently independently reviewed and it was reported that around 16,000 employment tribunal cases were avoided last year following calls to the helpline.  Many calls also resulted in employers updating or improving existing policies in their workplace.

At any time of the year, if you're seeking information on employment rights and rules please contact us for confidential, independent and impartial advice on 0300 123 1100 Monday to Friday, 08:00-20:00 and Saturday, 09:00-13:00.