Severe weather can raise a number of tricky issues for employers when employees can’t get into to work. These can range from whether employees should be paid, to whether they can work at all and if so, from where. We look at some of the most talked about issues here.
Do I have to pay employees who cannot get to work because of severe weather conditions?
In principle, employers are under no obligation to pay an employee who does not appear for work because of severe weather, such as heavy snow, as an employee who is not working, is not fulfilling their contract of employment. This remains the case even if the employee’s non-attendance is out of their control, such as when bad weather dictates.
However, some employers like to take a more pragmatic approach and view good employee morale and a reputation as a good employer as reasons to outweigh the financial issues associated with paying employees, even when they are not working due to severe weather conditions.
There are a number of alternatives to unpaid time off that employers can offer employees, such as; taking annual leave, or the opportunity to make up the time taken off at a mutually agreed time. You could also award an extra day’s paid leave.
What if the workplace is temporarily closed?
If employees are working from home, you must pay them their normal wages.
Should there be an alternative business location, it may be reasonable to ask employees to attend there instead, providing they can get to that location safely.
If an employee is unable to work because you’ve made the decision to close the premises, this will be a period of lay-off and employees should be paid their normal wage – unless a contractual provision exists which allows for unpaid lay-off, or alternatively, where employees have agreed to being laid-off without pay.
If the business is temporarily closed and there is no contractual right to lay-off your employees, and furthermore, where employees do not consent to a lay off period without pay, if you fail to pay them, this would amount to a breach of contract. In this instance, employees could also claim an unauthorised deduction has been made from their wages.
What if we usually provide transport for our employees?
Unless you have contractually promised to provide transport for employees to and from their place of work, it is the responsibility of your employees to get to work regardless of the severity of weather conditions. The obligation for employees getting to work does not sit with the employer. If employees do not turn up for work in these circumstances, you are under no obligation to pay them.
If an employee’s normal method of transport cannot be used because of disruption due to severe weather conditions, employees should be encouraged to look at alternative means of safe transport, or, you may consider whether the employee could work from home until the weather situation has improved. If this is not a viable option, the alternatives available are to advise employees that any time off work in these circumstances will be unpaid, or paid on a discretionary basis – but only in exceptional cases. Another option is that employees can request to take the time off as paid annual leave.
Can I ask my employees to work from home during severe weather?
As the situation during the Covid-19 pandemic has proved, many jobs can now be done from home and employees who frequently work at home should be encouraged to do so when bad weather occurs.
However, care needs to be exercised when asking employees to work at home where there is no provision to do so stated within their contract of employment. If this is the case, requiring an employee to work at home in severe weather will constitute a unilateral variation of contracts of employment, requiring consultation in advance with affected employees.
It is best to discuss with employees the option of working from home and whether they will agree to do so during disruption due to severe weather. If the alternative is that employees would not be paid for the time they are unable to attend work, they may favour agreeing to this as a temporary condition. Where employees are able to work from home, they must be paid their normal pay.
In addition to the above, employers also need to consider the health and safety aspects of homeworking before imposing working from home, bearing in mind that some employees’ homes may not be set up to be turned into a temporary workplace. It’s crucial the below issues are considered in these circumstances:
the health and safety of employees working from home;
the protection of business confidentiality;
data protection requirements;
the individual circumstances of employees, such as working space available and who else may share this space when they are working.
Do I need a policy on Severe Weather and work?
Whilst you may only need to rely on the policy a few times a year, it’s a good idea to make your workforce aware of the rules that will apply if they have difficulty getting to work because of extreme weather.
The policy can be open ended so that it includes a variety of disruptions caused by anything from natural disasters and severe weather, to public transport strikes and terrorist attacks.
Whatever approach is decided upon, informing employees in good time and having a severe weather policy in place that deals with all eventualities will be key for line managers and employees to refer to.
Where employees are unable to get to work because of severe weather, taking the time as paid annual leave may be an option and many employees will find taking paid holiday preferable to losing a day’s pay.
However, it is worth bearing in mind that there may be circumstances where taking holiday may not be possible, e.g. where the employee needs to keep their leave for a longer, pre-arranged holiday.
If you are going to stipulate that employees take the time off as holiday, you’ll need to ensure they have sufficient holiday entitlement left to take. You’ll also need to give employees notice of your wish for them to take annual leave in line with the regulatory requirements, which are that employers must give twice the amount of notice as the leave they are asking employees to take.
If you decide to allow employees to have a day off due to adverse weather or travel disruption and wish to ask employees to make up the lost time on other days, it must be within a reasonable time frame. In the absence of any policy on flexi-working, it is advisable you agree this with your employees and the practical arrangements for making up the time can be set between you in this respect.
There is also the option to grant an extra day’s paid leave to employees, but, if the business remains open and employees are not attending work, you also have the option to specify that employees will have an unpaid day of leave.
What if employees have children at schools or nurseries that are closed due to severe weather?
Employees have the statutory right to a reasonable period of unpaid time off for dependants.
The right applies where an employee needs to take time off work because of unexpected disruption to the care arrangements for a dependant.
An employee taking advantage of this right must inform their employer of the reason for the absence and likely length of the absence as soon as they can reasonably do so.
For more information on how we can provide you with practical HR support on this, or any other HR issue, contact us on 07762 629448, or click here.
Disclaimer:Materials and Information included within the Specialist HR Solutions Ltd, Articles and News are provided free of charge and are for reference purposes only. They are not intended as a substitute for professional advice, or to provide legal or other advice with respect to particular circumstances. While every effort is made to ensure that the contents of these articles are up-to-date and accurate at the time of publication to the website, no warranty is given to that effect and Specialist HR Solutions Ltd does not assume responsibility for their accuracy and correctness.