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Top tips for Employers during the Winter months

View profile for Danielle Lister
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As winter sets in, it is timely for employers to consider any ‘winter’ employment issues that can arise.  Being prepared for the particular issues that winter brings will ensure employers are ahead of the game and able to manage if the usual concerns crop up during this time of year. 

We have put together the following top tips for employers on managing their workforce effectively during the winter months.

Seasonal Colds and Flu

Unfortunately, for most of us seasonal colds are inevitable at this time of year.  Colds and flu can however result in increased levels of sickness absence and so it is sensible to be prepared. 

Employers should check their policies now to ensure they are up to date and ready for the winter period.  Employers should be clear with their employees, both in terms of a written policy, but also communicating the requirements generally to their employees, of the procedure to follow if they are unable to make it to work due to sickness absence.  Return to work interviews are always recommended. 

If employers have sickness limits as part of their absence management strategies, these should be clearly communicated.  Remember that those employees with disabilities should not have disability-related absences held against them, or employers should make allowances to take this into account.  Employers are able to self-certify short term absences, but require a Statement of Fitness for Work (known as a Fit Note) where the absence lasts for seven days or more.

Dealing with Adverse Weather

The thick of winter can bring adverse weather. This can lead to short term disruption to businesses, such as if employees are unable to get to work due to heavy snow weather. 

It is recommended that employers have an Adverse Weather Policy, dealing with requirements and expectations in the event that adverse weather hits.  Employees are not automatically entitled to pay in the event of adverse weather preventing them from attending work.  It is sensible to consider in advance what your policy is regarding pay in such situations, and clearly communicate this to staff before the situation arises.

It is recommended that employers try to be flexible in such situations.  There may be other options available that the business can plan for, particularly employees working from home during the affected time and effective use of information technology to facilitate remote working, if possible.  Consider whether this is possible and if employees are going to be working from home, consider whether employees equipped to work from home and have a Home Working Policy in place.

Holidays

It is not unusual for a flood of holiday requests to come in at this time of year as people try to use untaken holiday, particularly for those businesses that operate their holiday year in accordance with the calendar year.  If this causes problems for your business, consider introducing a policy that requires holidays to be taken at certain times of the year, or limits the number of days that can be taken at particular times.  Again, a clear policy in respect of Holidays is essential. 

Your businesses’ approach to issues such as Carry Over of Holidays should be set out and communicated to staff very clearly, particularly if operating a policy of ‘use it or lose it’.  Remember there are some situations whereby the law requires you to allow carry over of holiday, such as for those employees who are prevented from taking their full entitlement due to maternity leave, for example.

Wellbeing at Work

It is widely documented that for some people, winter can be a difficult time of year.  The dark and cold season can in itself exacerbate some conditions such as stress and depression, and not everyone associates the festive season with happy times.

As more and more people suffer with mental health conditions, it is important for employers to be able to identify if there is a problem and take action where appropriate.  Failure to manage such issues effectively can lead to employees going on long term sickness absence which can present a significant problem for employers. 

It is important to remember that those suffering with a disability (which could include stress and depression) may be entitled to have reasonable adjustments made for them at work and so it is important to have a dialogue with employees and ascertain whether there is any support or assistance they require.  Morale in general is likely to be boosted by taking positive action to ensure employees feel supported at work.

Christmas Parties 

Christmas parties can be a fantastic way to bring teams together and thank employees for a great year at work.  However, excesses of alcohol and a relaxed party spirit can have unintended consequences and employers would be wise to consider possible issues in advance of any Christmas party to ensure they are ready and able to manage any situations that may arise. 

It is sensible to be clear with employees about expected standards of behaviour before any party takes place.  Whilst Christmas parties may be outside of work time and away from work premises, the employer can still be held vicariously liable for the actions taken by employees at work related functions. 

If is not uncommon for incidents such as alcohol-induced disagreements or even violence to occur.  This can lead to potentially serious disciplinary matters, but also can impact on your businesses reputation within the wider community.  Consider whether alcohol consumption may become an issue, particularly if providing a free bar, and whether this is something you are comfortable with. 

If the worst does happen, it is important to take appropriate action where unacceptable standards are displayed.  Check your disciplinary policy in advance to ensure this is up to date and covers any issues that could arise and as always, ensure this is clearly communicated to employees. 

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