Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Snow dilemma for working parents

Winter weather is causing a major headache for working parents - and it's no easier for their employers either.

Our employment law specialist, John Mehtam, says it's vital though that employers try to be as flexible as possible.

"No-one wants to receive the panic phone call that says your child's school is about to close due to snow - it's all well and good saying it's in everyone's best interests because of health and safety, but that doesn't help resolve the situation.

"By law, staff are entitled to take a reasonable amount of unpaid time off work to deal with family situations like this and employers must take a sensible approach, even though it causes disruption in the workplace."

John said employers must also be careful how they deal with incidents when employees have to take time off for emergency childcare when schools are forced to close.

"If you don't allow an employee to take time off to care for their child in such a situation, you could well be breaching their rights so it's important to handle the request sensitively."

John says the best policy is to have a bad weather plan in place so that everyone knows where they stand.

"It's not just about parents needing time off when schools are closed - what if your employees fail to arrive at the workplace at all because they claim they can't get through the snow and ice? You have a duty to protect their health and safety, but of course you also need to balance this with the needs of your business.

"Your staff have no automatic legal right to be paid if they can't get into work because of the weather, but check your contracts carefully as they may say differently. And if you've previously paid staff in similar circumstances, you may have already set a precedent which you now can't ignore."

John suggests considering several options if staff are unable to get to work, in order to ensure everyone's needs are met.

"Ask your staff to take paid annual leave if they have any left available, or suggest they work from home. Employees could also take the time off as unpaid leave if they have no alternative, or agree to make up the time lost by starting earlier, working later or taking shorter lunch breaks once they're back at work.

"Tricky weather conditions are difficult for everyone but by being flexible - whether you're an employer or an employee - everything should balance out in the end."