While life goes on in Canada and Siberia under drifts, Britain has been crippled by snow. Again.
London is cloaked by a smog of emissions and the hot air of millions of rat-racers, so the snow hasn’t got a hope of sticking – the view from my window is of a metropolis sprinkled with dandruff, not of gridlock.
But with many major roads blocked in the suburbs and trains marooned, lots of commuters have heeded police warnings not to travel to work due to snow. And with over 30% of schools closed, many who could dig their way to their office are instead watching Teletubbies and making snowmen with their kids.
So far, so no big deal. We don’t get snow often, so we shouldn’t spend billions on snowmobiles and fleets of gritters. And those ‘snow costs billions to the UK economy’ figures are always spurious, since they don’t consider the tangible benefit to millions of a day spent free from office politics!
What is shocking though is that some employers are docking pay if staff can’t get to work, or encouraging them to take the day off as holiday.
Not only is it against most contracts of employment, it’s also against the Blitz spirit that business relies on at these times.
Check your employment contract if snow keeps you at home
Most full-time workers will find their employer has no right to dock their pay or their holidays if they legitimately can’t make it into work.
A few high fliers or specialists may have particular clauses for such circumstances, but even then their contracts are more likely to vaguely speak about determining when they can take holidays, not docking a day at the whims of the weather gods.
Temporary workers hit by snow aren’t so lucky. Since you’re paid by the hour, if you can’t show up to put those hours in, the employer doesn’t have to pay you.
Work from home, or another day
Contract law doesn’t mean employees should allow their employer to suffer unduly.
I’m the first to say you shouldn’t let your job rule your life, but equally the best employment for both parties involves mutual respect.
Many jobs – perhaps most, in the case of Monevator readers – can now be done from home, especially for one day. Smart companies will already have systems to allow for flexible remote working.
Even if you can’t do your usual front line work, you can probably make telephone calls, clear out your emails, or do other paperwork or research.
Or why not spend a few hours thinking about how to achieve the most you can in your job in 2010?
Employees and employers alike put too little focus on career advancement, or truly effective working. Think hard and type up some thoughts, and you could return to work more useful than ever. Proving you’re vital to your boss will also help safeguard your salary while unemployment is still rising.
If it comes to the worst and your boss forces a hard line, see if you can arrange to work on another day rather than losing the flexibility of a true day off.
If I had a full-time job (I’m a freelance), I’d rather work a couple of Saturday mornings than lose one of those precious 20-odd days off a year*.
What if you are the boss?
I know at least a few small business owners read Monevator, and no doubt managers from bigger companies do, too.
As is clear, I believe a Draconian response to employees who are unable to get to work is poor form, and will ultimately backfire. Be aware too of the very real dangers of forcing employees to come to work when conditions are dangerous.
Consider what steps you can take to enable more employees to work from home next time, and also read this severe weather model policy from The Federation of Small Business.
Smaller firms always suffer the most from any disruption, but they also rely on their staff going that extra mile – pulling together is part of the excitement of a small company.
Personally, if I was running a small business again and only a quarter of my staff made it in due to snow, I’d encourage those who did to cover for the others, and then end the day early for drinks on the house in the nearest pub!
*Apologies to my American readers for whom a dream 20 days paid leave a year sounds like European socialism run wild!