Winter weather and work: five common employer queries

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With parts of the UK experiencing 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.

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

  1. Avatar
    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?

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      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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    Debra Rose 1 Mar 2018 at 9:46 am #

    I am in a position of being a worker for my local council but under a zero hours contract(effectivly). I teach in children’s home who cannot access school. The council have said they are under no obligation to pay if we cannot get to work, and there is no chance in this job of working from home. We have a contract but there is no adverse weather terms.

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    Andrew Cooke 1 Mar 2018 at 10:47 am #

    Where does an employer stand if the Police say do not travel ? And secondly what would your view be if as an employer, an extra days holiday was given to employees who made the effort to get into work. Those who didnt would not be have an time deducted.

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      Hacked off wife 6 Mar 2018 at 5:26 pm #

      What if employers just suit their self at that time! Bad weather meant my husband was sent home, employer asked if he had holidays??? If employer sends you home, why should you have to use your holiday entitlement??! Now employer wants to change contract to reflect adverse weather conditions, he doesn’t pay average holiday pay and wants everything his own way! Reality check – employers not always right! Employers need to realise his staff keep him in money, greedy to the core

  4. Avatar
    freddie 1 Mar 2018 at 2:27 pm #

    i started out to work but because of heavy snow fall,we had to abandon our journey to work and retaurn home,do we get payed our basic hours for this or not

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    Laura 5 Mar 2018 at 9:38 am #

    What if an employee agrees with the employer to work from home, but the employer’s IT systems fail meaning that the employee can not do so? Should the employee be penalised for that?

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    Indumathi Deva 5 Mar 2018 at 9:59 am #

    Apart from this, the maternity period of women also has a major impact on the results. How to handle this? Initially, they have agreed to commit for a 3 months period but now they tend to violate that. How to proceed with this?

  7. Avatar
    alex 11 Mar 2018 at 5:30 pm #

    if employee makes the effort to go to work & government did highlight not to travel or avoid going by car ,most transport was cut back or stopped company have a responsibility to their staff to make sure they are safe & any good employer would do the right thing ,government should play its part when red alerts are called .

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    alex 11 Mar 2018 at 5:31 pm #

    would agree with that

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    Chris 14 Mar 2018 at 9:08 am #

    During the bad weather I was at work all week, but many colleagues were not. They have been given 2 days ‘free holiday’ (i.e. not made to take it as annual leave or unpaid), but have not credited people like myself, who made it to work, with extra pay or holiday, which does not seem very fair given that means we’ve effectively lost out on two extra days holiday. Are we entitled to any recompense in lieu of attending work?

  10. Avatar
    Robert Heimanson 13 Apr 2018 at 1:34 pm #

    Employers should get geared up to work from home it is a digital work you do not have to come in to the office every day

  11. Avatar
    Linda Feliciano Moreno 3 Feb 2021 at 5:35 pm #

    our office closed for 2 days due to a snow storm. all hourly employees were paid for the 2 days. Since i work in the office i was told i had to work from home. I am also hourly. is this fair? should i be compensated?

  12. Avatar
    Craig Argiro 13 Feb 2021 at 1:18 am #

    I work as a janitor part time and we had a ice storm and a big snow storm coming. My boss wants me to go to work. I drive a sports car a Corvette and it doesn’t drive good in that kind of weather. I haven’t been fired yet but he keeps calling me and doesn’t say or leave a message. I am 64 years old and I think he will probably fire me soon. I can’t understand how they can do that but I read that they can fire you. There should be better laws to protect employees!

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