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Winter-weather policy, do you need one?

Our last HRinfodesk poll asked readers: Do you have a winter-weather policy to handle challenges the weather will bring that might prevent employees from getting to work? Out of 319 respondents, 161 (50.47%) of respondents said no and 90 (28.21%) said yes (29/9.9% of respondents already cover it in policy). Only 68 (21.32%) answered they did not know they needed one.

So do you need one or not?

Canadian winter weather is always unpredictable; however, there is no legislation in Canada that specifically requires organizations to have a policy that deals with challenges in the workplace brought on by the winter season such as adverse weather conditions (i.e., snow or ice storms).

These adverse weather conditions can prevent employees’ from getting to work safely due to travel disruptions which can lead to staff shortages, and a high rate of absenteeism.

According to HR Hero Line in the United States,

When snow, ice, or other extreme weather shows up in the forecast, employers’ thoughts turn to how weather might prevent employees from getting to work and how those employees can stay safe when they are able to be on the job. Rather than just hoping for the best, many employers develop an inclement-weather policy intended to balance employee safety with the need to continue business operations.

Issues to consider when thinking of a winter-weather policy according to HR Hero Line include:

  • Encouraging employees to avoid driving in unreasonably hazardous conditions
  • Modifying business hours if driving conditions are hazardous
  • Establishing a call-in procedure for employees to use to learn whether business hours are being modified
  • Allowing employees to use sick leave or other types of leave when driving is hazardous

I would add to this list, having measures and tools in place to allow those employees who can, to work from home via remote VPN connections or using laptops, tablets or smartphones.

Although it makes sense to allow people to stay home and out of harm’s way during a winter storm, the intricacies of how to handle time worked versus time off can raise questions. So, it’s important for employers to understand the implications of the Employment/Labour Standards Acts (for provincially regulated employers) or the Canada Labour Code (for federally regulated employers) when deciding how to handle pay for employees who either stay home or leave early because of weather.

Employees are not automatically entitled to pay if unable to get to work because of bad weather. There is no legal right for employees to be paid by an employer for travel delays (unless the travel itself is constituted as working time or in some situations where the employer provides the transport) to get to work.

Adverse weather might not happen often, but a flexible approach to matters such as working hours and location may be effective and is recommended. Good handling of bad weather and travel disruptions can actually be an opportunity for an employer to enhance staff morale and productivity; for example, employees may approve of the opportunity to work from home, and being paid for snow days. Think about other issues such as alternative working patterns or who can cover at short notice.

In emergency situations, an employee could be entitled to take unpaid time off to look after dependents. Extreme weather conditions could be seen as an emergency situation. This unpaid time off should not count against their performance record.

In all cases, deal fairly with employees; even if businesses are impaired by the effects of absent workers, employers should still ensure that any measures they take are carried out according to proper and fair procedure. This will help maintain good and consistent employee relations and help prevent complaints to employment tribunals.

In addition, Occupational Safety and Health legislation requires employers to ensure the safety and health of workers.

So do you need a winter-weather policy? Legally no, but having a policy to make sure your employees know their rights and responsibilities in the event of a snow day or other inclement weather always makes good business sense.

Have a policy that deals with the steps employees are required to take to try to get into work on time and how the business will continue if they cannot. You need to decide how to deal with lateness and what will happen with regard to pay if employees are absent. Having such a policy should reduce the possibility for confusion and disagreement.

Finally, always make sure your policy describes how employees can get in touch with the employer or their manager/supervisor if they are unable to get into work, and how you (the employer, manager/supervisor) will communicate with them if you are going to be delayed or other reasons.

Yosie Saint-Cyr
First Reference Human Resources and Compliance Managing Editor

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Yosie Saint-Cyr, LL.B. Managing Editor

Managing Editor at First Reference Inc.
Yosie Saint-Cyr, LL.B., is a trained lawyer called to the Quebec bar in 1988 and is still a member in good standing. She practiced business, employment and labour law until 1999. For over 18 years, Yosie has been the Managing Editor of the following publications, Human Resources Advisor, Human Resources PolicyPro, HRinfodesk and Accessibility Standards PolicyPro from First Reference. Yosie is one of Canada’s best known and most respected HR authors, with an extensive background in employment and labour across the country. Read more
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