Snow your employment rights!

What are your rights if you are unable to get to work because of the snow?
Employees are not automatically entitled to pay if they are unable to get to work because of adverse weather conditions. However, employers may have contractual or custom arrangements in place to deal with this, and both ACAS and the Government advice website encourage employers to agree sensible arrangements with their employees. The legal starting point is that any leave taken, whether authorised or not, will be unpaid unless it is taken as annual leave.  However, this can depend on the circumstances, and it is open for employers to put in place special provisions dealing with adverse weather in either the contract of employment, handbook or relevant policies.  This could include paid leave, or the option to work from home. 

Points to note for employers – do a policy update when you see a snowflake

Be flexible and use IT systems wisely

The handling of bad weather and travel disruption can be an opportunity for an employer to enhance staff morale and productivity, for example, by allowing staff to work flexibly and from home. Employers should consider alternative working patterns and staff who can instead cover at short notice. Employers should also try to provide employees with use of laptops and smartphones so they are able to work from home.

Deal with issues fairly

 Procedures should be carried out properly and fairly, which will help maintain good, fair and consistent employment relations. This will assist in preventing any complaints or potential claims.

Plan ahead

Employers should consider reviewing their policies and thinking about how to handle different scenarios. It may be appropriate to put an ‘adverse weather’ or ‘journey to work’ policy in place. This would deal with steps which employees must take if they cannot attend work. Employers need to decide how to deal with lateness and what happens in respect of pay. There is then much less scope for confusion and complaints.

Points to note for employees – don’t get the sledges out just yet

Taking paid or unpaid leave

If your run-around of choice is the latest Land Rover Discovery, you just fancy a brisk trudge through the snow to get to work, or you’re otherwise ready, willing and able to work, what are your rights if your employer decides to close for the day?

Your employer can ask you to take paid holiday, but only if they give you adequate notice. This must be at least double the length of time of the annual leave, so for example, for one day’s annual leave it would be two days’ notice. However, you should check your employment contact as a different notice period may apply. In particular, if you are entitled to more leave than the statutory minimum, your employer may not have to provide you with any notice.

Unless it is stated in your contract, your employer cannot force you to take unpaid time off.  If you are ready, willing and able to come to work (despite the snow!) you have a right to do so.  Therefore, if your employer decides to shut down for the day, then you still have the right to be paid.  In these circumstances, your employer may ask you to work from another location, work from home, or make up the time later. Your employer cannot usually deduct pay if your workplace is closed because of disruption, and you do not usually work from home or it does not have the contractual right to either require you to make up time or work from another location.  The key point is, if in doubt – get your contract out! 

However, if it is business as usual for your employer, but your 1.0 litre front wheel drive Renault Clio can’t quite make it out of the snowy back roads, you should agree whether the time will be taken as paid or unpaid leave. 

If paid leave, your employer has the right to expect you to either work from home (if this is possible) or alternatively, may agree to you taking the time off as annual leave.  If you are unable to agree to take paid leave, then your employer has the right to treat the time off as unpaid.  So, before you get carried away dreaming of snow angels, carefully consider whether you can get to work safely, because you may be looking at an expensive sledging trip if not.

Time off due to school closures

If your child’s school is closed or their normal childcare arrangements are disrupted due to the snow, and you are unable to find anyone else to care for them, then you potentially have the right to take reasonable time off to look after them. However, this right only applies in emergency situations when it is not possible to make alternative arrangements.   This right also applies if you have any other dependants that you need to care for in an emergency situation (such as grandparents). 

A school being shut or a breakdown in caring arrangements at short notice may be considered an emergency. Therefore, you are likely to be entitled to a reasonable amount of time off to make alternative arrangements. However, what is ‘reasonable’ will depend on the facts.

It’s snow laughing matter
Your employer cannot force you to attempt the journey, so if it is too dangerous to get to work, the best advice is to stay at home. 

However, if you do decide to stay at home, make sure your reasons are genuine.  Your employer is unlikely to be convinced by that picture of the Antarctic masquerading as your front drive, and you could find yourself on the end of some uncomfortable disciplinary proceedings if you take time off without a genuine or legitimate reason.

Alistair McArthur
Partner, Head of Employment
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This reflects the law and market position at the date of publication and is written as a general guide. It does not contain definitive legal advice, which should be sought in relation to a specific matter.

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