With bad weather and snow forecast, a leading West Midlands employment lawyer is warning the region’s businesses to be fully prepared before the weather takes a turn for the worst.
Widely respected employment expert Sally Morris has advised business leaders on their rights as employers ahead of expected snow with many staff expected to say they cannot make it into work.
In a call to the region’s business community, Ms Morris has urged employers to communicate closely with their staff and establish a clear policy so employees know exactly what is expected of them when conditions deteriorate.
School closures and being ‘snowed in’ are among the most common reasons for people to miss a day at work in the first few months of the year. But Ms Morris said many bosses would see their businesses suffer if they were not aware of their rights.
“Heavy snow in January last year cost the British economy an estimated £500 million a day. It was a time of huge disruption for employers as many staff could not get in to work.” said Ms Morris, partner and head of employment at mfg Solicitors.
“This year will be no different and that’s why businesses should be preparing and communicating in advance. It has surprised me to see several West Midlands business owners unaware of their rights during periods of extreme weather.
“Almost every business owner will have a tale to tell about staff claiming they cannot get to work. But employers must realise that employees are obliged to attend work unless they are sick, on holiday, on maternity leave or have another legally protected reason.
“It’s important to understand that extreme weather conditions are not an excuse. Staff don’t have to be paid if they are absent without leave.
“School closures are another big grey area. By law, parents are allowed to take unpaid time off when there is an ‘unexpected disruption’ to childcare. Some employers allow people to have the day off paid, but others won’t. It’s a decision which differs from business to business but it is vital to be consistent and make staff aware of what is expected.
“One of the best ways to be clear with employees is by introducing a Bad Weather Policy. This document can play a vital role in communicating to employees what is expected of them and what the process is. Those who haven’t got procedures in place, especially businesses in retail or customer service industries, are the ones who will ultimately struggle when the bad weather arrives.”
Ms Morris said that some businesses who have prepared often have sanctions for staff who falsely blame the snow for taking a day off. She added that some also offer incentives.
She added: “Everyone knows that the region has pockets of remote rural areas which can leave people unable to get to main roads or train stations. That could mean some businesses will want to allow people to work from home or equally, put incentives in place for those who go the extra mile.
“A quick glance at the weather forecast tells us that bad weather will hit the region shortly. That shouldn’t mean panic stations for our business community. It should mean preparation. They need to take advice on what their rights are, concentrate on what strategies they are going to put in place and ultimately, communicate with staff.”
Ms Morris and her team have been advising businesses across the West Midlands on what policies they need to put in place to cope with bad weather. Readers can set up an appointment by calling 0845 55 55 321 or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org