As the Siberian storm or ‘Beast from the East’ sets in across the UK, some of us face heavy snow and freezing conditions whilst others have so far witnessed a flurry of flakes and wait expectantly for the blizzard to take hold. This type of weather arrives with the expectation for travel disruptions, possible school closures and a challenging commute for workers. Usually there is no strict procedure as to what action should be taken depending on the severity of the weather and in the workplace this leaves employees in an awkward position as to what to do, especially if schools are closed and child care is not available.
Below we have outlined some of the measures employers can take to ensure that employees can still deliver high performance during the ‘big freeze’.
Agree on a protocol
During the months of cold weather at work, employers should be checking the forecast so that challenging conditions can be anticipated. A plan should be established dependant on the severity of weather to avoid any ambiguity or nasty surprises; this may include staff working from home, going into the workplace later on or providing the option for employees to take annual leave. If the storm is severe, it would usually be more beneficial to the business for employees to work from home than risk getting stuck on treacherous roads. These options are of course dependent on the nature of work being carried out and the protocol may vary depending on this; the important point is that plans should be established in advance.
Expect to be flexible
Usually in the workplace, employees will live in different locations and this could mean that some employees experience greater difficulties during the bad weather. For example, some people may live in remote areas where roads are far more challenging whilst others may be able to walk into work. Clearly employers need to take these factors into consideration when deciding what is sensible. Employers also need to make allowances for those with children; where schools are closed employees have the right to take ‘dependent leave’ to make sure their children are looked after in an emergency. Laura Kearsley of Nelsons Solicitors points out however ‘this is not time off to look after the child, but to make alternative arrangements for their care instead’. The important point here is that whilst employers should be flexible, they also need to be fair and not give some employees preferential treatment due to their circumstances as this could lead to resentment.
Play it safe
Employers have a duty of care to the employees and are required to maintain safe working conditions as they could be liable if there was an accident that could have been avoided. For example, employers should make sure that the entrance to the workplace is well gritted and that employees are warned if roads are icy. Manual work may not be possible during bad weather conditions and employers should always play it safe rather than take unnecessary risks. The cold weather can also have an effect on our health, with more employees feeling unwell and needing to take time off work. By taking measures to ensure employees are well looked after, this can be avoided. Better to have a healthy employee work from home than to have them make a gruelling journey into work only to be off sick the following day!
Create warmth within the workplace
Even where there exists a great workplace culture, during the cold and wintery months, employees may be suffering from the winter blues and would often rather be tucked up under the covers than making their way into work! To counter this, efforts can be made to ensure the workplace is as comfortable as possible, for example by making sure the office is warm and cosy and boosting morale by offering a free hot lunch or providing hot chocolate and snacks, It is also important to show recognition to employees for making the effort to battle the cold temperatures and managers should be having regular one to ones with their staff to gage how they are.
Keep the cold weather at bay
Above we have outlined some of the ways employers can mitigate the risks of bad weather. Whilst there is often a lot of hype in the media when the weather takes a turn for the worst, employers should acknowledge all warnings and take appropriate measures where possible to ensure employee performance and engagement is not effected.