Many employers across the UK are feeling the chill as travel disruption from the freezing spell dubbed “The Beast from the East” means their employees are unable to attend work.
Employees who are not able to get to work on account of snow generally expect to receive their salary. However, unless their employment contract expressly provides for this, there is no obligation for employers to pay the day’s wages.
In the UK most employers do not consider it necessary to include an adverse weather travel policy in their handbooks to set out procedures including pay arrangements when employees are unable to attend their place of work due to the weather. Employers must therefore take care when exercising discretion to pay employees and must ensure that all are treated equally to avoid allegations or claims of less favourable treatment.
Options available to avoid deducting pay include insisting the snow day is taken as part of an employee’s annual holiday entitlement or asking the employee to make up their hours, although this may not always be a practical solution and employees may feel aggrieved. Case law suggests that employees may be entitled to claim against an employer if they are unpaid for not being able to attend work due to weather conditions and there may also be an implied contractual term to receive pay if an employer decides to withhold pay having previously always made payments in similar circumstances.
Employees who have dependents are legally permitted to take reasonable time off during working hours in order to take any necessary action due to unexpected disruption or termination of their dependents care arrangements. Schools closing on account of snow would reasonably be considered as such a situation where it is permissible to have time off work. However, although there is a right to take this time off, again, there is no right for this time off to be paid and if an employer pays an absent employee who is caring for a dependent, it would potentially be divisive and unfair not to pay employees who do not have dependents.
ACAS guidance on this topic suggests flexibility is key, pointing out that morale and productivity may actually be enhanced if an employer handles bad weather and travel disruption positively.
Indeed it is important to think practically in such situations. Employers should make it as easy as possible for employees to work from home so that not being able to get to work does not stop the work being carried out. Flexible working rights have been extended in recent years and are now increasingly part of employees contractual arrangements and no longer only available for employees with dependents. If the arrangements to work from home are already established this should be considered as a practical solution to manage the issue of employees not able to attend work easily.
Last, but not least, the health and safety of employees must be particularly borne in mind in such circumstances. Whatever the weather, employers must always be aware of the duty of care they owe to employees, but particularly so in bad weather conditions. Employers must never insist the employees make their way to work if authorities are advising against non-essential travel.
Although the extreme weather conditions are thankfully infrequent in the UK, from an employment law perspective, planning and preparation are key. Using contingency plans, acting consistently, implementing transparent policies and using good old common sense are all ways in which employers can control the disruption to their workplace caused by forces beyond their control.