Winter weather and work: five common employer queries

Snow causes havoc on the A9 in Scotland this week
Peter Jolly/REX/Shutterstock

With parts of the UK having experienced heavy snowfall, we answer five common questions from employers on the workplace impact of severe weather conditions.

1. Do I have to pay employees who cannot get to work because of severe weather?

In principle, you would be within your rights to refuse to pay an employee who does not appear for work because of severe weather such as heavy snow.

This is because an employee who is not working is not fulfilling his or her contract of employment, and so you do not have to pay him or her.

Do I really need a policy on severe weather?

You may need the policy only a few times a year, but it is a good idea to make your workforce aware of the rules that will apply if they have difficulty getting to work because of bad weather.

The policy can be open ended enough to include disruptions caused by anything from natural disasters and severe weather to public transport strikes and terrorist attacks.

This is the case even if the employee’s non-appearance is out of his or her control, for example because of extreme weather conditions.

However, this is one of those employment scenarios where the letter of law says one thing, but common sense dictates a more pragmatic approach.

The financial burden on your business of paying staff even though they are not working because of bad weather may be outweighed by the benefits.

Staff morale and your reputation as a good employer may benefit in the long run if you pay staff on a snow day.


2. What are my options if I need employees to work even though the weather is bad?

In this day and age, many jobs can be done from home, and employees who frequently work at home should be encouraged to do so when bad weather approaches.

However, employers need to be careful about asking employees to work at home when a requirement to do so is not included in their contracts of employment.

If it is not, to require an employee to work at home in severe weather will constitute a unilateral variation of contracts of employment requiring consultation in advance with affected staff.

Employers should also consider the health and safety aspects of homeworking before imposing a homeworking requirement: some employees’ homes will simply not be set up to be turned into a temporary workplace.


3. Can employees take periods when they cannot get to work because of poor weather as annual leave?

Did you know…?

Health and safety laws do not provide a legal minimum workplace temperature. The temperature in all workplaces inside buildings must be “reasonable”.

The Health and Safety Executive recommends two minimum temperatures: one for sedentary work and one where the work requires physical effort.

Where employees are unable to get to work because of bad weather, taking the time as paid annual leave may be an option.

There is nothing to stop you asking if employees would like to take extra holiday if they are unable to get to work.

Many employees will find taking paid holiday preferable to losing a day’s pay.

However, there may be circumstances in which this might not be possible. For example, where the employee wishes to keep their leave for a foreign holiday.

If you are going to insist that employees take the time as holiday, you must give them the minimum statutory notice.


4: If I close my workplace because of bad weather, do I have to pay my staff?

If employees are working from home, you must pay them their normal wages.

If an employee is unable to work because you have made the decision to close the premises, this will in effect be a period of lay-off.

You should pay your employees their normal wage, unless there is a contractual provision allowing for unpaid lay-off, or the employees agree to being laid off without pay.


5. I have employees with children at schools and nurseries that are closed because of the severe weather. Do I have to give them time off when they have nowhere to put their children?

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.

The right to time off for dependants would clearly apply where schools or nurseries close because of severe weather.

An employee taking advantage of this right must inform you of the reason for the absence, and likely length of the absence, as soon as he or she can.

This article was originally published on 13 January 2017.

Stephen Simpson

About Stephen Simpson

Stephen Simpson is a principal employment law editor at XpertHR. His areas of responsibility include the policies and documents and law reports. After obtaining a law degree and training to be a solicitor, he moved into publishing, initially with Butterworths. He joined XpertHR in its early days in 2001.

2 Responses to Winter weather and work: five common employer queries

  1. Nic 5 Feb 2018 at 4:44 pm #

    Regarding the right to unpaid leave for dependents…does this not only apply to the right to unapdi leave for the purposes of arranging alternative childcare, rather than to actual provide the care yourself?

    • Sarah 9 Feb 2018 at 10:52 am #

      Nic – I think you are right (I’m just in HR so this is not a legal answer) but certainly employees generally tend to think the entitlement is for them to take unpaid time off to provide the care. I think it would be reasonable to consider that on the first day of disrupted care arrangements the parent could be dual-tasking – ie looking after the child at the same time as trying to arrange alternative childcare – but after that (and certainly after two days) I would argue they are not covered by this right. Unfortunately, in reality, I think employers have their hands tied because (in my experience) parents tend not to have any pre-arranged ‘option 2’ childcare in place and find it difficult to find someone to look after children at short notice, so have to stay at home themselves. Arguably the employer could sanction the employee but (and especially since the absence is unpaid) that probably doesn’t achieve much other than make the employer seem unsympathetic!. If a particular person regularly took time off due to failed childcare arrangements, I would have a conversation to point out their actual rights and suggest they get some emergency back-up in place in principle to avoid absence in future.

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