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How can employers prepare for potential power blackouts in the winter? HR expert Kate Palmer sets out what to think about.
Coming hot on the heels of the challenges businesses faced over the last two years, including rising energy costs, reports that homes and businesses across England, Scotland and Wales could see their power shut off this winter, for three hours at a time, are not what any employer wants to hear.
Although currently deemed an ‘unlikely’ scenario, the warning follows concerns over energy supplies in Europe and the ongoing war in Ukraine.
Kate Palmer, HR Advice and Consultancy Director at Peninsula, says regardless of the likelihood, there are steps that employers should take now to ensure general preparedness on top of other work on health and safety issues.
Although this warning is very much a worst-case scenario situation and the Prime Minister has said we are in a good position, preparation is key. While essential businesses, including transport and NHS hospitals, would be exempt from power cuts, other businesses should start thinking about their emergency management protocol now.
If blackouts do become a reality, households and business owners should receive at least one day’s notice to prepare.
It may be possible to adjust working hours to accommodate the power cuts, depending on what industry a business is in. Altering shift times or changing opening hours is one way to keep things up and running and avoid too much disruption to day-to-day operations.
Employers will also need to consider how the power cuts will affect remote or hybrid workers. It’s likely that any blackouts would be rotated to help ensure that different areas are affected at different times, but this could make it more difficult to ensure all staff are online at the same time.
If you know employees won’t have internet access for certain parts of the day you can prepare by implementing a switch to short-hour days or bringing in a mix of shorter and longer days as needed.
However, if you know that your workplace will not be impacted by the power cuts, you could ask staff who usually work remotely to come into work. It is important to bear in mind though that this could create issues for staff with childcare commitments or caring responsibilities, for example, and so may not be suitable for everyone.
If you need to send employees home early because of power cuts, you will still be required to pay them. This is the case unless you have a specific clause on short time working within your contracts of employment, allowing for a reduction in pay should you be unable to provide work.
As always, it is best to create an open channel of communication between you and your employees. Be sure to put plans in place that allow you to operate fairly and flexibly, getting the best from your employees and maintaining business productivity.