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Big freeze shock for employees

Minister attacks firms docking pay over no-show workers

M8 glasgow deserted

The M8 was one of a number of routes bereft of traffic

Workers have been threatened with having their pay docked for failing to get to work during the big freeze.

Scottish Transport Minister Humza Yousaf said he has been contacted by a number of people who have been threatened with a loss of pay.

This was despite government and police appeals for people not to travel, while a red weather warning – meaning risk to life – was issued by the Met Office. Public transport was suspended and the travel network largely paralysed with many travellers caught up in the storm.

Mr Yousaf, interviewed on TV, said: “Frankly I’d be extremely disappointed if employers chose to dock wages for somebody because they couldn’t travel during the red weather warning.

“I’ve had a number of emails from individuals that they were facing disciplinary or potential docking of wages. Now that’s just simply not an acceptable situation when the government and police and other agencies joined together to give very crisp, very clear advice it’s not for our own good, it’s for the safety of the public.”

“I don’t know the legal position but it will clearly be part of the debrief that we have after we pass through the yellow weather warning which is late on Monday night.

“We will be talking to employers and having that dialogue with them and of course, internally looking at what powers we have, is clearly part of the discussion we’re going to have.”

What is the legal position?

Legal firm Law at Work offers the following advice:

 Do I have to pay my employees if they can’t get into work?

In general, no. Employees are legally obliged to come to work provided  they are not on sickness, annual or some other “official” leave. This is the case even during periods of extreme weather. If the workplace is open, employees should make the effort to get to work if they can. While employers should not encourage employees to put themselves at risk, if an employee cannot get in the employer is not generally obliged to pay them. However, employees stranded while out on business are likely to be considered as “at work” so should be paid.   

Employers should check their staff policies and contracts for any indication that staff will be paid in the event of bad weather. Employers should also have regard to previous episodes of adverse weather and ensure that their approach is consistent with how they behaved in the past.

What alternatives are there to docking pay? 

Employers may wish to avoid docking staff wages to prevent low morale amongst staff and, in the case of high-profile businesses, to avoid bad press. Approaches to consider include:

  • Paying all staff, regardless of whether they are able to make it into work;
  • Introducing “snow days”, or time-limited paid leave for days absent due to bad weather;
  • Asking staff to take annual leave (note that an employer cannot force an employee to take a day holiday without giving advance notice);
  • Permitting staff to make up the time off on their return;
  • Asking staff to work at an alternative workplace (if available); and
  • Encouraging staff to work from home.

What can I do if I suspect an employee can make it into work but is choosing not to, blaming bad weather?

In this situation it is open to the employer to discipline the employee. However, employers must have evidence to show  employees are blaming their absenteeism on the weather and must not act on suspicions alone. Thereafter, employers should proceed by following their disciplinary policy.  Employers should also take care in relation to any health and safety implications when encouraging (or even threatening) employees who assert that they are unable to attend work.  If an employee has a genuine and reasonable grounds for fearing for their health and safety if they try and attend work during bad weather, disciplinary action may well constitute a detriment based on health and safety grounds.  

What can I do to prepare for bad weather? 

Employers can take a number of steps to minimise the disruption caused by adverse weather. The first is to introduce, or update, an Adverse Weather Policy, which   should clearly lay out your organisation’s position  well in advance of the arrival of bad weather. The policy should contain information on pay in the event of staff being unable to get into work as well as information for parents and those with dependents on their rights and obligations in the case of school/nursery closures. It should also link to the organisation’s absence or disciplinary policies to deal with the issue of employees falsely blaming absenteeism on bad weather.   

Top tips for employers:

  • Plan ahead by introducing an adverse weather policy;
  • Consider alternatives to docking absent employees’ pay and ensure that your approach is consistent;
  • Keep employees updated on travel disruption and ensure that they have a point of contact;
  • Ensure you have contingency plans for staff cover;
  • Don’t force staff to disregard official weather and travel advice; and
  • Do not keep the workplace open if it is unsafe to do so.

 Comment: Technology to the rescue in big freeze

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