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Website URL : http://www.acas.org.uk/index.aspx?articleid=3554

Acas Winter warners for employers

Tuesday 29 November 2011

snowy street We may have had the mildest November for over 300 years but now that December's here Acas, the workplace experts, are reminding employers that now is the time to make sure they're prepared for those workplace issues that crop up over the winter months.

Adrian Wakeling, Acas Guidance Editor, says: 

    "Winter often brings dilemmas for employers - adverse weather conditions can 
    mean staff shortages due to travel disruption, and seasonal celebrations often 
    result in a stampede 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

Last year saw heavy snowfall leading to a rise in staff absence as workers struggled to make it in to work.

  • 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.

Workplace wellbeing

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

  • Make sure your line managers know how to respond to signs of stress. They may need the right training to help them handle diffiult conversations and raise awarness of health issues.
  • 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.

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

Acas winter top tips guidance is available at www.acas.org.uk/winter.

Notes for editors

  1. Acas' aim is to improve organisations and working life through better employment relations. It provides information, advice, training and a range of services working with employers and employees to prevent or resolve problems and improve performance. It is an independent statutory body governed by a Council consisting of the Acas Chair and members from business, trade unions, academia and the law.
  2. 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 08457 47 47 47 Monday to Friday, 08:00-20:00 and Saturday, 09:00-13:00.

For media enquires contact Lou Owen, Media and Marketing Officer, on 020 7210 3920.