Medical and dental practices should have a bad weather policy to ensure they are fully prepared for any staff disruptions caused by the harsh winter weather.
The "beast from the east" brought much of the country to a standstill earlier this month with public transport grinding to a halt, school closures and warnings from the police and government to avoid travel in some areas as red alert weather warnings were issued by the Met Office.
In Scotland, Transport Minister Humza Yousaf stated that it would be unacceptable for employers to dock wages of workers who were advised by the government and police not to travel during the red weather warnings.
MDDUS employment law team have had a flurry of calls from practice managers asking for advice on how to deal with staff no-shows during last week’s disruptions.
There is no legal obligation to pay staff if they cannot attend work due to the weather conditions. However, the practice may have contractual obligations or have custom and practice arrangements in place from previous years.
The practice also needs to consider health and safety obligations, as each practice has a duty of care to its employees. Common sense should also be applied. Where there is a Met Office warning to avoid travel, then it is not reasonable to be encouraging employees to come to work.
Few contracts will include a clause allowing the practice to deduct a day’s pay if an employee cannot make it in and employees also have a statutory right protecting them against unlawful wage deductions.
So, if the practice does not have the contractual right to deduct pay and the employee does not consent to the deduction, a complaint could be raised. “Therefore, it is important for the practice to be flexible.
How such matters are handled can often affect morale and productivity so it is advisable to introduce a bad weather policy that should be clearly communicated to all employees and applied consistently.
Possible options within the policy include the employee:
• Receiving a set payment - for example, one day’s full pay only
• Being asked to make the time up at a later date
• Being given the option to use holidays
• Taking the time unpaid
• Working from home, if possible
So what do you do if you suspect an employee is taking advantage of the situation?
Initially, the weather may be so bad that their absence is genuine but, as time goes on and weather and travelling conditions improve, you expect employees to return to work.
It is reasonable to ask employees to consider alternative modes of transport if their usual option for getting into work is not available. If that is not possible, then one option is to ask employees to take holidays for these periods of absence and explain that if further days off are required these too will be deducted from their annual leave entitlement.
Where employees are absent due to school closures, employees have the statutory right to unpaid time off to deal with emergencies. The key word here is emergencies and not simply because the employee has general childcare issues.
This time off is for the employee to arrange alternative childcare cover and not to take two or three days off to look after the child themselves. A school closing on a morning, without prior warning, could be classed as an emergency.