Snow at this time of year can cause travel chaos across the country, with many people unable to get to work due to the weather.
Employees are obliged to attend for work unless they are ill or on leave, which means that the onus is on them to get to work. However, they should not feel under pressure to ignore advice or risk their safety in extreme weather conditions.
Employers could consider implementing a ‘bad weather’ policy, which sets out what is expected if conditions outside make it difficult for employees to get to work. This could include, for example, guidance on workplace closures, disruptions to public transport, working from home and remote IT access, whether employees will be paid if they do not make it into work, and provisions to deal with unexpected school closures. Such a policy may also provide for employees to be paid even if they cannot make it in. Some employers may also offer to pay for more direct transport to ensure employees get safely into work.
Some employment contracts will contain express provisions dealing with what should happen in the event that weather prevents employees from getting to work, and some employers will not dock wages, however, there is no right for employees to get paid unless this is contained within their contract. Employees should also check if there is a collective agreement in place that the employer will pay them if they cannot get into work due to circumstances outside their control. In this event, if the employer does not pay, it could be considered an unlawful deduction from wages.
Employers may be able to offer employees the choice of working from home rather than struggling into work through snowy or icy roads, or allow employees to take annual leave, or make the time up later. An employer cannot however, force employees to take a days holidays without their consent or without giving proper notice. Taking unpaid leave may be an alternative to having to use annual leave, and may be a suitable compromise.
Employees are entitled to take reasonable time off to cope with an emergency situation regarding their dependants, and this may in some circumstances extend to unexpected school closures. Employees could be entitled to take unpaid leave to make alternative arrangements for childcare, although they should check their employment contract or determine what usual practice in their workplace is.
If the business is closed at short notice, employers cannot withhold pay or require employees to take the time as part of annual leave. If pay is withheld, employees could bring an action for unauthorised deduction from wages. Employees should check their contract for a ‘temporary lay off clause’ which allows employers to temporarily lay off employees. If the business is closed, employers could make arrangements for staff to work from home, if possible.
For more information, contact your local Citizens Advice Bureau. Further guidance can be found on www.nidirect.gov.uk or by contacting the Labour Relations Agency on 02809032 1442.
Sian Fisher is an Information Officer with Citizens Advice