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Employers braced for cold snap

  • Employers advised to put measures in place to reduce business impact
  • Employers have a duty of care for all employees under the Safety Health and Welfare at Work Act

Employers must remain vigilant for the rest of this week with the anticipated worsening of weather conditions over the next couple of days. Status Red warnings are now in place as follows:

Snow and ice warning for Dublin, Kildare, Louth, Wicklow, Meath:

05:00hrs 28th Feb to 12:00hrs 1st Mar

Snow and ice warning for Munster and Leinster:

16:00hrs 1st Mar to 12:00hrs 2nd Mar

Businesses have the opportunity to prepare for this event and we advise employers to put measures in place to reduce the potential business impact this warning could have.

During Storm Ophelia, widespread business closures occurred at short notice. While it is very possible that business closures will not be necessary on this occasion, businesses should prepare for the possibility.

As employers have a duty of care for all employees under the Safety Health and Welfare at Work Act, a key consideration needs to be whether, in the circumstances, it is safe to ask employees to travel to work, or to undertake their work. The potential risk could be greater for certain roles or in certain sectors (e.g. “on-the-road” sales positions or in the construction sector where outside work is required).

Consider how a business decision will be made as to whether or not closure is necessary. Will work automatically be called off if a Status Red warning is issued? Will other circumstances be taken into consideration (i.e. the employee’s work environment?). Who will make the decision and more importantly, how will this decision be communicated to employees?

You should ensure you have up to date contact information for all employees within the organisation in case a last minute decision needs to be communicated to staff members.

Where your employment contracts allow for a period of “lay off,” you may want to put employees on notice that this clause could be invoked at short notice later on in the week.

Should the business be forced to close, you should consider the likely impact this will have on customers/clients. A plan should be put in place as to how this will be communicated. Consider whether any steps can be put in place to reduce the impact on customers. For example, is remote working a possibility for your employees? Would this help to diminish the impact on your customers/clients? Is there a contact number that could be provided in the event of an urgent issue arising?

Where a business closure does not occur, you should ensure employees are aware who they should contact in the event that they are unable to attend work due to the weather conditions. Flexibility should be allowed for employees, especially those who have some distance to travel. Where employees are present in the workplace, care should be taken to remain vigilant for any worsening conditions and cancelled/amended travel services throughout the day. Consideration should also be given to how long it will take somebody to commute home safely.

Further advice for employers can be found on the BeWinter Ready website

Pay Considerations:

The question of whether or not employees will need to be paid if they are unable to attend work due to the severe weather conditions is proving difficult for many employers.

There are a number of matters that require consideration in this respect.

Where the workplace remains open and an employee is unable to attend work due to the weather there is no requirement to pay, unless custom and practice or company policy states otherwise.

Where employees fail to turn up to work due to the weather conditions the employer can at his/her discretion:

  • Continue to pay the employee as normal
  • Consider allowing the employee to work from home if possible
  • Allow the employee to make up their missed time at a later date
  • Provide them with the option of taking a day’s annual leave to cover their absence

Difficulties however arise where the company closes, or employees are sent home upon turning up to work.

Again, where the option to work from home is a possibility the employee can be requested to do so. Where this is not a possibility however, it becomes somewhat more difficult.

Where employers have existing policies outlining what will happen in the event of business closures, these should be activated, and employees informed. As long as employees have been made aware of this policy, the provisions outlined should take effect.

Most employers however, do not have a policy in place. In this case, the general rule-of-thumb, where an employer cancels work (or is forced to cancel work), is that the employer is liable to pay employees.

However, where employers have a “lay-off” clause within the employment contract, they are within their rights to invoke this clause.

It is important to note that you cannot force an employee to take a day’s annual leave to cover this time. Legislation requires that in order to force an employee to take a day’s annual leave, you must provide them with 1 month’s notice. The only exception to this would be if the right to do so is included in a specific “adverse weather conditions” policy, as referenced previously.

Further advice can be found on the Workplace Relations Commission website.