Snow Days - How do I manage these in my SME?

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Winter is approaching and as we know from experience, snowfall is often not predictable, nor are we the best equipped to deal with it.  Whilst our children’s faces light up with glee at the thought of a “snow day,” business owners are filled with dread by the impact on their businesses when their employees can’t get to work.

How can I prepare for dealing with the impact of snow in my small business?

Having a bad weather policy is helpful.  However, not all small businesses have the resources to prioritise getting one.  At the very least, I would recommend drafting a simple communication detailing the procedures that staff should follow for notifying you if they can’t get to work and how you intend to handle time off.  This will reduce the number of panic queries you have to deal with on the day and ensure you are treating everybody consistently and fairly.

How should I treat time off when employees can’t get to work?

It’s not as simple as one rule for all and much will depend on the nature of your business.  The first and most obvious question to ask is whether the employee can work from home?  If that is possible, then the obvious answer is to allow it.  However, do consider that if you have some roles that can be done from home and some that can’t, you shouldn’t penalise those that can’t, through no fault of their own.

Working from home isn’t possible within every business or for every role, for example, roles that require a physical presence on-site, working in a shop or a cafe.  If it’s not possible to work from home, consider talking to employees about using annual leave.  You can’t force them to take annual leave unless you can give them the required notice, which you’re unlikely to be able to do.  However, many employees will choose this option if the alternative is unpaid leave.

I would recommend that you try to make unpaid leave the last resort, although of course this will come down to affordability.  If you can agree on something at your discretion that avoids this, including making the time up when the weather is better, this will go a long way towards enhancing morale.

What if I make the decision to close our premises?

There may be instances where you as the business owner makes the decision to close your premises.  Freezing temperatures might mean that your facilities are not working or perhaps the key holder themselves cannot get there.  If you take the decision to close for the day, then you will need to pay your employees, regardless of whether they are able to work from home or not.

What if my employees can get to work but their children’s school or other childcare setting is closed?

If your employees can get to work but their childcare setting is closed, this would be classed as emergency leave for dependents, which is a ‘reasonable’ amount of unpaid leave for staff to deal with unexpected situations.  Unpaid leave should be used as a last resort;  If they can work from home, consider if they can make the time up when their children are in bed or another suitable time and don’t treat them any less favourably than other employees.

Once the weather has returned to normal and everybody has returned to work, ensure you update your HR systems with the agreements that have been made and correctly record whether the leave was paid, unpaid or taken as annual leave.

On a final note remember that as an employer you do have a duty of care to your staff and you are responsible for their Health & Safety both on-site and off-site when they are working for you.  Never pressurise an employee into making a journey that they have indicated might not be safe and ensure if they can get to work you’ve done a risk assessment on your premises and taken precautions to avoid any accidents or uncomfortable conditions, that might result from frozen conditions.