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Winter weather: Planning for disruption

As the mercury drops and another cold winter is predicted by meteorologists, it's time for employers to make sure that they're fully prepared for the impact of travel disruption brought about by severe weather. Instead of being caught out in the cold, employers should plan ahead and check they have a clear 'adverse weather' or 'journey to work' policy in place.

Such a policy should outline the kind of steps employees are required to take to get into work on time and what provisions will be made for staff shortages. A flexible approach to working hours and location - for example, by allowing staff to work from home - can boost morale and productivity at a difficult time of year. Advances in communication and information technology can enable colleagues to stay connected and potentially access data from remote locations even when they can't physically get into work.

A clear policy on how staff will be paid if they are unable to get to work, do their work from home or are late will reduce any confusion or disagreements. In most instances, employees are not automatically entitled to pay, but many employers have custom or contractual arrangements in place, or may make discretionary payments. Some employers may wish to offer holiday as an alternative but this has to be agreed by the employee. Employers should be mindful that it can be frustrating for those who battle their way to work to find that absent colleagues are still getting paid. A fair and consistent policy will help maintain good relations and reduce the likelihood for grievances and claims.

If a significant number of people can't make it in, an employer may decide to close the business during the disruption. This would effectively count as a lay-off, so they would be required to continue paying normal wages unless other provisions have been made contractually or by agreement. Employees could still qualify for a statutory guarantee payment even if lay-offs without pay have been specified in their contract.

Travel disruption can have a knock-on effect if it means schools are closed and employees have to look after their children. Reasonable 'time off for dependents' is allowed in emergency situations, though this is unpaid. Again, employers could offer time off as holiday with the agreement of the employee.

For more information about effective adverse weather policies, check the Travel disruption and bad weather page on the Acas website. Acas offers general practical training on Absence management. Visit the Acas training and business solutions area for more information.

Visit the Acas Training Courses, Workshops and Projects area for more information.

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