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Devastating impacts of the floods and other extreme weather. What should you do as an employer?

It is undeniable that bad weather has a bad effect on business. In some parts of the UK families and businesses have been devastated as homes and premises are damaged by really awful weather in the run-up to Christmas. There are so many issues to get sorted, not least how quickly insurance can pay out, or when they can get their homes and workplaces back to normal. But what should employers do if their staff have been affected by the floods and what are their responsibilities to their staff if their own business has been waterlogged?

What happens if your staff cannot get to work?

Your contract with your staff is based on the premise that an employee is only entitled to be paid for the work they have done. If the problem is the inability to get to work, and homes have not been affected, you could consider home working as an interim option. If this is not possible, and while you are under no obligation to do so, you may want to consider the good-will that might be generated by paying your staff as normal, particularly at this time of year. You could even offer to give this payment as a loan to be paid back over the next few months.

What allowances do you need to make for employees whose homes have been damaged by floods? How could you support them?

Employees have a statutory right to unpaid time off to deal with emergencies relating to their dependants but strictly speaking, this does not cover an emergency caused by home flooding. You may wish to, or indeed have already, give unpaid time off to deal with the immediate damage to their property. Some businesses will have policies in place regarding domestic emergencies, so make sure you review your handbook and policies. It is going to be an incredibly emotional time for affected staff, some will have lost everything including Christmas gifts and their plans will be in disarray. There is no doubt going to be a financial impact too, particularly while they wait for the insurance to pay out, what help is available in the area that they could be pointed towards?

What should you consider for your staff if your offices are damaged and closed?

The contract with your staff remains in place so a decision about when, if ever, the business can reopen should be made and communicated, and your ongoing obligations  as an employer met. If reopening is going to be within a reasonable time, could your staff take holiday to help? If this is not possible then you may be facing redundancies or if your employment contract allows for it, laying staff off for a period of time.  However, for some businesses there may be the opportunity to work from an alternative site, home, or even the business owner’s dining room! But consider consulting with the local business community, do any unaffected businesses have spare desks that you could use temporarily for example?

In other parts of the country and in Ireland other adverse weather and indeed engineering issues, such as the Forth Bridge Closure are having a serious impact on businesses. It is estimated the haulage industry are losing £600,000 per day currently, due to the Forth Bridge closures.

If you haven’t been affected this time, be prepared as it is the season for extreme weather, when forecasts are gloomy make sure you;

  • Warn employees that transport lines may be affected, roads may not be fully gritted and that naturally the traffic is going to slow down, so allow plenty of time to get into work.
  • Raise awareness as to what employees should do if they can’t get to work.
  • Communicate that unauthorised absence (as usual) won’t be tolerated.
  • Inform your staff that they could take annual leave if they feel they can’t safely get in.
  • Consider some business continuity planning, it doesn’t have to be complicated but thinking through all the alternatives beforehand may make the difference if it does happen to you in the future.

Back to the current crisis, there is help out there. Businesses are pledging free communications software support, loans and even workspace so do look into the support available.

For our part, The HR Dept will give a half hour of free advice on any staffing related issues caused by the recent flooding and bad weather until the end of January. Just call 0845 180 1120 to be put in touch with your local HR Dept.