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How weather extremes may affect the workplace

Everyone talks about the weather, but no one does anything about it.” Mark Twain

It is a rare day when Canadians are not thinking about weather, especially in January. Canada is a country of extremes in the weather department and although employers in Victoria, British Columbia may have completely different weather considerations than employers in Newfoundland and Labrador or the Northwest Territories, all employers should consider how weather extremes may affect the workplace.

Snowstorms, ice storms, wildfires, flooding, and extreme heat are examples of weather that may affect the operation of the workplace, employees’ attendance, and/or the health and safety of employees.

Whether an employer needs an adverse weather policy will depend on the type of work it has and on the contents of its other policies. For instance, outside work where workers are exposed to extreme heat or cold can be dealt with in the employer’s health and safety policies, lateness or absence caused by snow days can be included in lateness and absenteeism policies, serious weather-related incidents which become declared emergencies should be included in a policy for Emergency Leave-Declared Emergencies. However, it may be simpler to communicate such weather-related policies within one policy.

An adverse weather policy will inform and advise everyone in the workplace of procedures and expectations when it comes to dealing with extreme weather. It can also inform employees of procedures and expectations required for regular seasonal changes which don’t meet the definition of “extreme” or “adverse” weather; for example, all company vehicles must have snow tires installed by November 1 and removed by April 15 of each year. If an employer decides to issue an adverse weather policy in order to avoid confusion, it should ensure that its contents are consistent with its existing policies or are very clearly noted as an exception to the regular policy.

Employers should review the following current policies for weather-related considerations:

  • Emergencies and Business Interruptions – All employers should have a policy and plan for emergencies or disasters (weather-related or otherwise) that affect the entire business.
  • Emergency Leave-Declared Emergencies – All provinces have legislation regarding declared emergencies.
  • Personal Emergency (Family) Leave – some provinces require employers to provide “personal emergency leave” or “family leave”. Do adverse weather-related absences, such as school closures fall under the policy?
  • Company Vehicles – restrictions on driving in adverse weather and other winter safety procedures should be included in a company vehicle policy. Employers may want to include requirements for snow tires (especially in provinces where it is mandatory –currently only in Quebec and parts of British Columbia), and windshield washer fluid, or even a requirement to regularly wash the car to reduce corrosion. Employers should also double check their insurance policies to ensure there are no weather-related requirements for insurance coverage (ie. Snow tires).
  • Flexible Work arrangements – flexible work arrangements may help an employer to maintain productivity on extreme weather days where remote employees are prevented from getting to the workplace.
  • Absence (lateness) – Employers should ensure that weather-related lateness and absence is not counted as culpable absence or lateness.
  • Health and Safety – health and safety procedures should ensure that supervisors are monitoring weather conditions on an ongoing basis and responding accordingly to ensure employees working in such conditions are protected. Consider the increased risk of slip and fall, frostbite, heat or sun stroke, sunburn, flying debris in high wind conditions, etc.
  • Personal Protective Equipment – as noted above, ensure that the less glamorous PPE, such as proper clothing and footwear for the weather conditions, is required.

Look for a new “Adverse Weather” policy in an upcoming First Reference Human Resources PolicyPro® Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba & Saskatchewan, Ontario, Quebec and Atlantic Editions update.

Michele Glassford
Human Resources PolicyPro
published by First Reference Inc

Michele Glassford

President and Managing Editor at DRH and Lawyer at MacKinnon Law Associates
Michele Glassford, is a lawyer, researcher and policy analyst with a background in employment and labour law.In addition to a part-time law practice in Stoney Creek, Ontario, Michele has worked in the field of labour adjustment for the Health Sector Training and Adjustment Program and has been a Researcher for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. Michele also holds the position of President and Managing Editor at D.R. Hancocks & Associates Inc., author of the Human Resources PolicyPros. Read more

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