Devastating impacts extreme weather. What should you do as an employer?

Tuesday August 17, 2021

It is undeniable that bad weather has a bad effect on business. In some parts of the country families and businesses have been devastated as homes and premises are damaged by devastating weather. There are so many issues to get sorted, not least how quickly insurance can pay out, or when they can get their homes and workplaces back to normal. But what should employers do if their staff have been affected by extreme weather conditions and what are their responsibilities to their staff if their own business has been effected?

What happens if your staff cannot get to work?

Your contract with your staff is based on the premise that an employee is only entitled to be paid for the work they have done. If the problem is the inability to get to work, and homes have not been affected, you could consider home working as an interim option. If this is not possible, and while you are under no obligation to do so, you may want to consider the good-will that might be generated by paying your staff as normal, particularly at this time of year. You could even offer to give this payment as a loan to be paid back over the next few months.

What allowances do you need to make for employees whose homes have been damaged by fire or floods? How could you support them?

Employees have a statutory right to unpaid time off to deal with emergencies relating to their dependants but strictly speaking, this does not cover an emergency caused by home flooding or extreme weather. You may wish to, or indeed have already, give unpaid time off to deal with the immediate damage to their property. Some businesses will have policies in place regarding domestic emergencies, so make sure you review your handbook and policies. It is going to be an incredibly emotional time for affected staff, some will have lost everything and their plans will be in disarray. There is no doubt going to be a financial impact too, particularly while they wait for the insurance to pay out, what help is available in the area that they could be pointed towards?

What should you consider for your staff if your offices are damaged and closed?

The contract with your staff remains in place so a decision about when, if ever, the business can reopen should be made and communicated, and your ongoing obligations  as an employer met. If reopening is going to be within a reasonable time, could your staff take holiday to help? If this is not possible then you may be facing redundancies or if your employment contract allows for it, laying staff off for a period of time.  However, for some businesses there may be the opportunity to work from an alternative site, home, or even the business owner’s dining room! But consider consulting with the local business community, do any unaffected businesses have spare desks that you could use temporarily for example?

In other parts of the country other adverse weather conditions can cause engineering issues, such as a bridge or road closures which can have serious impacts on businesses.

If you haven’t been affected, be prepared as the seasons for extreme weather, when forecasts are gloomy make sure you;

  • Warn employees that transport lines may be affected, roads may not be fully gritted and that naturally the traffic is going to slow down, so allow plenty of time to get into work.
  • Raise awareness as to what employees should do if they can’t get to work.
  • Communicate that unauthorised absence (as usual) won’t be tolerated.
  • Inform your staff that they could take annual leave if they feel they can’t safely get in.
  • Consider some business continuity planning, it doesn’t have to be complicated but thinking through all the alternatives beforehand may make the difference if it does happen to you in the future.

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