Weekly dilemma: Employee absence due to adverse weather

One of my employees has called to say that he’s not going to be in for work – and won’t be in for the next few days – due to the adverse weather. I know that he has young children who attend a nursery that might be closed, but he doesn’t live that far away. What are my options?

Firstly, be flexible. Everyone hates snow, but some people struggle more than others to deal with travel disruption, particularly if they are elderly or infirm. Is there any opportunity for your employee to work remotely from home? If you allow homeworking in these circumstances, it can help boost staff morale.

You’re not obliged to pay your employee for days when he doesn’t attend because of bad weather, unless there is a right in his contract of employment (which is unusual in smaller companies). You might also suggest (but not insist) that he takes the days as paid holiday.

If you think that the employee is being remiss in his efforts to attend work then the option of formal disciplinary proceedings is open to you. Unless this is an individual with a track record of not attending work, a tribunal would not accept that it is reasonable to dismiss; this type of conduct would only warrant a warning.

However, if the reality is that the employee is looking after his young children, he has an absolute right to (unpaid) reasonable time off to make arrangements for his dependents in an emergency (and closure of the nursery would qualify as an “emergency”). Note that this is not time off to look after them himself: it is time off to make alternative arrangements for their care. So if they have grandparents nearby who could look after them, this statutory right to time off would probably be limited to, say, half a day. But be very careful if your employee raises this issue: if you issue him with any disciplinary sanction for exercising his statutory right to time off, and a tribunal decides that he was reasonable in taking the time off, you may well find yourself at the wrong end of a detriment or – worse – constructive dismissal claim.

Daniel Barnett, barrister, Outer Temple Chambers

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