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Acas launches guidance to help employers prepare for winter

David Woods , 08 Dec 2011

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Acas has urged employers that now is the time to make sure they’re prepared for workplace issues that crop up over the winter months.

Last year saw heavy snowfall leading to a rise in staff absence as workers struggled to make it in to work.

Employees are not automatically entitled to pay if unable to get to work because of bad weather, so Acas advises employers to have a clear policy – employees need to know what you expect from them in terms of getting to work; be flexible where possible; use information technology to keep  business running; plan ahead – misunderstandings often lead to conflict so be clear.

Winter colds and flu mean an increase in workers calling in sick. Employers are advised to ensure staff know when they have to contact work on the first day of sickness and should routinely hold back to work interviews when staff return. 

Employers may get a flurry of holiday requests around Christmas and New Year. When public holidays in the Christmas and New Year period fall on Saturdays and Sundays, alternative week days are declared public holidays. There is no statutory entitlement to paid leave for public holidays.

Most workers - whether part-time or full-time - are legally entitled to 5.6 weeks of paid annual leave. Additional annual leave may be agreed as part of a worker's contract.

Employers can set the times that workers take their leave, such as a Christmas shutdown.

Winter can sometimes exacerbate conditions such as stress and depression. Spotting and doing something about troubled employees is an important business skill. It’s rare for someone to voluntarily talk about a mental health problem. Approaching a colleague who  may be suffering from a mental health issue is not easy. Make sure  line managers know how to respond to signs of stress. They may need the right training to help them handle difficult conversations and raise awareness of health issues.

Adrian Wakeling, Acas guidance editor, said: “Winter often brings dilemmas for employers - adverse weather conditions can mean staff shortages due to travel disruption, and seasonal celebrations often result in a stampede to book annual leave. “We all know it’s going to happen but how many of us plan in advance? Our advice is: don’t get caught cold - have clear policies around issues such as getting to work and taking leave requests and communicate those to staff now.”

Acas has a range of advice and guidance on health in the workplace including the Acas booklet – Stress at work Acas winter top tips guidance is available at www.acas.org.uk/winter

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