Dealing with the floods
Updated: Feb 18, 2020
As the working week begins after yet another torrid weekend of weather resulting in flooding over many parts of Britain, I thought it might be useful to deal with some of the regular issues that come up when managing employees in extreme weather events.
The main question is whether people are entitled to pay during any extreme weather event impacting a business. This can be quite a legally complex matter depending on individual contracts of employment, union agreements or precedents set in the past. It won’t be possible to address all of these complexities but I will aim to give a clear overview of what needs to be considered.
If your business property has flooded and people are not able to attend an alternative work location or work from home, there is a high probability that you will be liable to pay people as normal unless your contracts have a lay-off clause included. If it is likely to be inaccessible for a significant length of time and your business can’t operate elsewhere, it may be that more extreme courses of action such as redundancy may be required. If you are facing this situation, the best course of action is to seek advice from a professional who is familiar with the complexities an event like this presents.
If your employees are unable to travel to the work location and have no other alternatives such as different offices or working from home, you are unlikely to be obliged to pay people unless covered by a contractual or policy arrangement. However, you still have a duty of care to act in a manner that is not going to encourage people taking unnecessary risks in trying to travel. Ideally, a policy covering how you will manage such instances will be in place that means people are clear on what remuneration they are eligible for and that states they should not take unnecessary risks.
You could mitigate the impact of this by allowing people to make up any missed hours by reduced lunch breaks or longer working hours for a couple of weeks. If this isn’t practicable, you could allow people to request to use annual leave to cover this time but you cannot enforce this. A half-way house might be to offer half pay for any missed time. It’s tricky to find the balance between encouraging your people to make reasonable efforts to attend work and people being financially penalised for things outside of their control.
And what about that unfortunate employee whose home has been devastated by flooding? Again, there’s no legal obligation to pay people in such circumstances but there may be a contractual requirement.
This situation is probably one of the hardest to deal with as a SME. Your employee will be experiencing significant hardship, perhaps not even able to access their home and having to stay in make-shift accommodation. They will have lots of practical things like contacting insurance providers, arranging clean-up and finding longer-term accommodation. They may not even have a clean set of clothes to change into. Larger organisations may be able to offer greater flexibility, cover for the work and be able to afford to continue to pay them for a period of time but this is trickier for SMEs.
No-one can tell you the right way to approach this as it will be down to your own business and how affordable additional support might be for you. What I would say is that how an organisation treats its people in their time of crisis will be observed by others and they will remember it – good or bad – and it may cloud how much trust they have in you. If you are too generous and people think that the affected individual is taking advantage of it, it could damage your credibility but if you don’t give any flexibility, they may feel that this is unreasonable and disengage.
Regardless of how you manage the immediate situation, suffering a flooded home is not a short-term event. It can take months to get back to normal and it is extremely stressful. You might find that an affected individual will not be as focussed or committed while they are dealing with this – it could even result in a mental health event. As an employer, you need to be aware of this and have strategies in your workplace to help you support your employee during this time.
With today’s technology, working from home is often a viable solution for the first two instances. Where you are able to facilitate this, you need to consider your obligations under the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). People whose roles allow home working should be trained in the basic principles of GDPR and how to ensure that data is stored securely and protected from any breach. Managers should also be clear about the level of output required on days when home working is taking place. It’s my experience that most regular home workers are more productive when working from home but there is the risk that a rogue individual will not be as active as they should be.
Extreme circumstances often engender a community spirit where everyone mucks in to get things sorted and people who work for SMEs may feel more connected and responsible for helping getting a business back operating as quickly as possible. This is laudable and such energy should be harnessed in a safe manner. Any clean-up operation should be risk assessed and appropriate PPE should be provided to your people. It should be clear who is responsible for directing activities to ensure your people stay safe and get the best results. Flood waters are often contaminated and buildings may have become unstable as a result of the water ingress so don’t let enthusiasm to help get you into a different type of deep water!
If you are facing issues surrounding extreme weather events, 2020 HR can provide advice on pay, lay-offs, redundancy, policy approaches, GDPR training and much much more.