Tuesday 16 October 2018

Companies must put plans in place to deal with red alerts for worst of extreme weather

'due to recent Storm Emma we have had many common queries' (stock photo)
'due to recent Storm Emma we have had many common queries' (stock photo)

Caroline McEnery

Q In recent months my business has seen the occurrence of Storm Ophelia and Emma. How, as an employer, can I prepare for this happening again?

A Ireland's previous extreme weather events have most definitely hit employers' ability to operate businesses, their ability to be able to provide work and employees' abilities to make it to work.

As we all know, extreme weather can happen at any time of the year. We have now experienced extreme weather in late 2017 with Ophelia and in 2018 with Emma which has highlighted the need for employers and managers to be proactive in managing workplace disruption, which in itself is outside the remit of employers and employees.

In general, most organisations continue certain operations during periods of bad weather due to the needs of clients, customers and other factors.

However, a Status Red Warning is different due to recommendations from Government to exercise caution and warnings to stay indoors within certain hours due to the detrimental impact to 'life and limb'. It is, therefore, best-practice advice that all companies have a plan which clearly defines how they intend to deal with difficult weather situations: not to be proactive and have a plan to offset any disruptions would be imprudent.

Place of Business: How could the place of work be affected ie the site and buildings. Is the location at risk of storm damage, snow damage or flooding? Are water pipes insulated (including in and around vacant buildings)? Employers should check premises over weekends and holiday periods and review their insurance cover.

Employees: Can management introduce options that could minimise disruption eg working from home, teleworking or shift work. This may not be feasible for all. Employers and management need to consider what has to be put in place to ensure employee safety across the place of work.

Are non-slip mats necessary? Do additional heaters need to be provided in the workplace?

With previous Status Red warnings we have had advance notification. This may not always be possible. Ensure the business/appointment members of management have up-to-date employee contact details and that responsibility is assigned for planning and making preparations.

Customers and suppliers: Have a plan for communicating with customers - eg social media updates on changed opening and closing hours etc. If your business has an app, can a notification be pushed through to provide a notification to customers? Liaise with key suppliers on arrival times of supplies and services. Ensure you consider customer and supplier safety within their access areas in the business. Assess how surrounding pavements and access points can be cleared in the event of snow and ice and make preparations for suitable equipment being available.

Finally, due to recent Storm Emma we have had many common queries.

Payment: There is no legal entitlement for an employee to be paid where they cannot attend work because of extreme weather conditions.

Annual Leave: Employees can ask to take a day of annual leave in the case where they cannot attend for work due to the conditions and it was going to be an unpaid day. This would potentially be outside of the annual leave procedure but this could be easily facilitated by the employer if there was an annual leave entitlement to use.

Closing the Business: If you decide to close, you need to pay the employee for the hours they were rostered because employees are entitled to one month's notice to take a designated holiday.

Roster Change: In a normal situation, employees would be entitled to notice of at least 24 hours of a roster change. However, if adverse weather has affected your business and you have to change your roster to facilitate a later opening time etc, this time requirement does not apply in such unforeseen circumstances.

Layoff: If the organisation has suffered due to severe weather and is unable to function due to repair work and restoration efforts, the employer can put employees on a period of 'layoff' as there is no work available. It is clear that this would be temporary and the employee can expect to return to work once work has been completed to make the site safe and workable. In such a case, the employer is not obliged to pay employees.

Caroline McEnery, managing director of The HR Suite, is a member of the Low Pay Commission and is an adjudicator in the Work Place Relations Commission. She is also author of The Art of Asking the Right Questions

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