With a number of counties across the country currently under a Status Red weather warning and with both Status Orange and Yellow in place across the remainder of the country, the National Meteorological Service has highlighted the associated risks of the severe weather conditions. Severe and damaging gusts continue to be expected this morning due to Storm Debi. Potential impacts include damage to exposed and vulnerable structures, dangerous travelling conditions, disruption to services and damage to power lines. Employers should be mindful that no unnecessary risks are being taken.
For many Employers operating in a hybrid capacity will mean the impact of these severe weather conditions will not bring with it as much operational disruption as would have been seen a number of years ago.
For others, extreme and severe weather events can impact on an Employer’s ability to operate his/her business. It can impact on an Organisation's ability to be able to provide work and also on an Employee’s ability to attend for work.
An Organisation’s policy on absence due to bad or inclement weather should address the situation where Employees are unable to attend work, or if the Organisation does not have work available, due to weather-related circumstances.
Employers are encouraged firstly to look at any adverse weather situations arising to understand if there are any health and safety risks associated with requiring Employees to travel to and from or attend at work during extreme or severe weather conditions – a common sense approach should be taken by Employers.
In the event that the Organisations premises is unable to open due to inclement weather / natural disaster or some other reason outside of the Organisations control, the Organisation should make every effort to notify Employees as soon as possible. In these circumstances the Employer may put Employees on a period of 'layoff'. An Employer may lay off Employees when there is no work available for a temporary period with that Employer. If Employees are laid-off, then the Employer is not obliged to pay Employees.
Where the Organisation decides that it is possible to open the premises but determines that it is impractical, then in such circumstances Employees will be entitled to be paid.
From a strict legal standpoint, there is no obligation to pay Employees when they cannot attend for work. Payment in such circumstances is discretionary.
Any more beneficial arrangement is a matter for agreement between the Employer and the Employee. Employers are encouraged to take a long-term view of the working relationship, recognising that demonstrating concern for the welfare of Employees and treating Employees fairly translates into a better working environment to the benefit of both the staff and the Employer. The custom and practice in the Organisation in previous similar instances may be of relevance.
However, employment contracts may contain provisions enabling Employers to put Employees on short time working or lay-off when an event outside the Employer’s control impacts on work. For those Employers, it may be permissible to send Employees home without having to compensate for the reduced hours of work although caution should be exercised when relying on these clauses for short closures. For Employers without such a clause in the employment contract, a decision to send Employees home could amount to a breach of contractual terms. Full pay for the lost hours would therefore be due under the Payment of Wages Act 1991.
Annual leave days to cover the unforeseen absence from work:
Employers may have Employees take annual leave for the day or days covered by the event; in which case they would be paid. Normally there must be a months’ notice of the Employer’s intention to have Employees take annual leave; however, the Employee may agree to a shorter notice period.
Should an Employee be on annual leave when a weather-related event occurs and is unable to return to work due to travel restrictions, Employers may use a pragmatic approach and allow the Employee to extend their annual leave or authorise unpaid leave during this time.
What happens where a roster needs to be changed at short notice?
Normally, Employees are entitled to notice of at least 24 hours of a roster change. However, this does not apply where the change arises from unforeseen circumstances justifying a change in the notification period.
Working from home:
Where an Employee has the capacity to carry out their work from home for the duration of the disruption, this could be considered and if appropriate can be agreed with his or her line manager. This will not be feasible for a number of roles where the Employee’s presence is required. This may also put pressure on the Organisation’s IT infrastructure as demand increases.
Arriving late and / or leaving early:
Where Employees arrive late or leave early, whilst some flexibility may be provided, Employers need to consider paid leave where the Employees will work up the time missed at a later date, preferably within one month of the occurrence. This is usually more feasible in Organisations that already operate a flexi-time system. Alternatively, the option of unpaid leave or annual leave (broken into hours) may be considered.
Some Employees may fail to attend for work when suitable public transport is in operation. Unless authorisation has been received, this is not a justifiable reason for absence and should be dealt with under the Organisation’s disciplinary procedure, as with any unexcused absence.
Schools or crèches closing:
In the case of schools or crèches closing, an emergency leave situation may result for some staff. This does not fall under the legal definition of force majeure leave. Where the Employee is unable to make alternative arrangements, annual leave or unpaid leave could be considered on a case-by-case basis.
Each situation will be different and common sense will need to be used where there are clear health and safety risks to certain Employees.
For further information or advice, please contact your designated experienced HR Client Manager in Adare Human Resource Management.
Dublin Office: (01) 561 3594 | Cork Office: (021) 486 1420 | Shannon Office: (061) 363 805
firstname.lastname@example.org | www.adarehrm.ie
Please note that this content is provided for information purposes only and does not constitute legal or other advice.