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Employment law and bad weather: are employees unable to attend work entitled to pay?

Snow generally brings a feeling of excitement, engendering visions of spending time on the slopes. In the UK, snowfall rarely involves skiing but instead icy roads, slush on pavements, disruption of public transport and overall chaos across the country. As a result, many employees are faced with difficulties getting to work because of bad weather.

These issues affect many when it comes to employment law. In the heavy winter snow of the last few years, many employees were unable to attend work and had to choose between taking unpaid days off work or using up parts of their holiday entitlement. From the employee’s point of view, this may seem unfair, as it is not their fault that they are unable to attend work if public transport is disrupted or if their children’s school or nursery has closed for the day. From the employer’s point of view, however, if most of their employees cannot attend work because of bad weather or major travel difficulties, then business may be affected.

So what is the position if an employee cannot attend work for the above reasons?

Health, safety and bad weather conditions

If a place of work is unable to open because of, for example, the health and safety implications of bad weather, then employees should nevertheless be paid, unless their contracts of employment contain a specific clause, such as a temporary lay-off clause. If, however, the workplace is open for business, then there is no obligation for the employer to pay employees who do not make it into work. However, employers should make sure that they deal with each absence on a case-by-case basis and ensure that continuity and fairness is applied throughout.

Weather and travel conditions

In order to avoid disputes and complications, employers should implement a bad weather policy. This would also apply to other circumstances where employees were unable to attend work, such as major travel disruptions due to strikes.

Having a clearly worded bad weather policy in place will assist employers with the management of staff, as employees will know what to expect if they cannot attend work in these sorts of circumstances. A further advantage of such a policy may be that it helps avoid a sudden increase in sickness absence, since employees are likely to think twice before taking the day off. Furthermore, a clear policy will ensure business continuity and resilience at times when a significant number of staff are absent.

Although employers may choose to pay employees when they cannot attend work through bad weather, in reality, few do. However, employers may want to consider providing alternatives, in order to retain good working relationships. These can include:

  • Working from home;
  • Working from other workplaces nearer to employees’ homes or that are easier for them to access;
  • Closing the workplace altogether;
  • Offering paid annual leave if the remaining entitlement is sufficient;
  • Making up hours at a later date;
  • Unpaid time off for employees who look after dependents (e.g. children whose school is closed);
  • Paid leave for a limited period, before offering employees the choice of unpaid time off or annual leave.

Employers should then ensure that the policy is well publicised internally and available to all employees. It is good practice to ask employees to sign and return a copy, to ensure that the policy has been read and understood.

As with all policies in the workplace, it is important for employers to ensure that every member of staff is treated in a fair and consistent manner and for employees to know where they stand. Lyons Davidson’s Employment Department can offer to review and advise on internal policies. For more information, contact us on 0117 904 6000.

Posted on Feb 10th, 2012 by Lyons Davidson

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