Sheffield based law firm Irwin Mitchell who suffered extensive damage to the ground floor of their Millsands building in the floods that hit the city on June 25th have put together a guide for local businesses similarly hit by the extreme weather.
Liesel Whitfield an Associate Solicitor in the Employment Team of Irwin Mitchell put together the guide to help businesses review the way that they handled the floods, both from a commercial and an employment perspective, and take steps to consider whether practices can be improved in any way in case anything like it happens again.
Ms Whitfield said "Major incidents of the nature of the floods don't happen often, but when they do occur, it is essential that businesses are prepared. Having detailed plans in place ensures that business is not affected and that managers and employees know what action to take."
Ms Whitfield identified the following areas for businesses affected by the floods:
- Employee response: Rewarding or even simply recognising and thanking positive behaviour and actions over and above normal job duties is a good way to retain staff and encourage their motivation, and will make employees feel that their efforts have been noticed. Employers should also consider whether their existing policies adequately address the situation or whether review and updating is needed to set out to employees what is required of them if a similar situation ever arose again future.
- Management response: Employers should assess whether their managers were adequately prepared to deal with the floods. For example, consider whether there is any management agreement in place to set out who would make the decision to send staff home. Equally, consider whether there is any training needed in this area, to ensure that managers are equipped to consider and prioritise needs in the future and to take decisive action promptly.
- Health and safety: Employers should also be comfortable that there are procedures in place to account for all their staff. If it became necessary to send staff home for any reason, employers should identify one or more managers or directors who would check which employees were left in the building and ensuring that they were safe, whether that was in agreeing with those employees that they would remain in the building, or in sending them home.
- Information technology: Consideration should be given to the security of IT systems, in particular whether the system was adequately backed up, whether all important items were recoverable and equally whether your firewall and virus protection were not compromised. In addition, it is worth consideration whether key staff were able to access the IT system from a remote location, so that plans could be put into place to conduct the most important operations from home or another office if necessary.
- Disaster recovery: Increasing numbers of employers are creating a disaster recovery plan to deal with a great number of disaster scenarios. If you already have one, this is a good time to review its operation and assess whether changes are needed. If you do not have a disaster recovery plan, now is the time to think about drafting one, taking into account the steps that you took to deal with the floods and how you would deal with a major event in the future.
- Practical issues: If your premises have been damaged, consideration will need to be given to accommodating staff elsewhere, either on a temporary or permanent basis. Potentially this could create redundancy issues, which require careful handling, particularly if more than 20 employees may be affected, and specialist legal advice should be sought.
Ms Whitfield concluded: "This is simply a short overview of some of the key points that employers should consider as business life gets back to normal. Whilst we can all hope that nothing like the floods will ever happen again, major incidents can take many forms and can quickly affect business if contingency plans are not made and effectively operated."