As the colder months continue and everyone dreads the return of the ‘Beast from the East’, employers and business owners might want to start thinking about how adverse weather conditions will affect their businesses. Heavy snow and ice can cause road closures and public transport delays or cancellations, even in more urban areas. Employees should ensure that they are aware of their company’s policy should they struggle to get into work.
Employers should develop a strategy to deal with such disruptions. If you employ staff, then you might want to start thinking about this now and ensure your adverse weather policy covers all you need it to. You will want to ensure that the needs of your business are met should a large number of your staff be absent whilst also considering how you will manage staffing issues should the weather take a turn for the worse. You should ensure that all of your staff are clear on the policy to assist them with their decision making and help to eliminate any claims that staff may seek to make. Will you pay any staff who do not make it into work? Will you allow staff to work from home or an alternative workplace? What level of contact and communication do you expect from your employees? By developing a clear policy and staff management plan now you can ensure that your business is not left out in the cold.
In addition to this, the law requires you to protect the health, safety and welfare of your employees. You must do whatever is reasonably practicable to achieve this. Do you have staff who are required to drive as part of their duties? As you must provide a safe working environment, asking these employees to work in adverse weather conditions is snow joke! By doing so you could expose yourself to negligence claims or be breaching health and safety regulations.
If you must send staff home to comply with this duty, what happens to your pockets? Workers who are ready, available and willing to work will usually be entitled to their normal rate of pay. If you need to close your business premises early/open later, cancel employer provided transport, or your managers or key holders are unable to get to work then you will have to pay your staff as normal, if they have been willing to work up until that point. Anyone who chose to cancel their shift of their own accord would not be entitled to the payment. Whilst it would be mutually beneficial to demonstrate an element of flexibility in working from home, or reduced hours, unless the contracts of employment provide for the same, you cannot force employees to work from home where the weather leaves them unable to attend the workplace.
There is no legal minimum working temperature, although the HSE recommends an internal temperature of 16 degrees Celsius, or 13 where there is a lot of physical work. Where working temperatures remain safe but are not comfortable, ACAS recommends that you should consider relaxing the dress code to enable staff to wear warmer clothing and allow extra breaks to make hot drinks. If the risk cannot be removed or avoided, then you may have to send home vulnerable staff to protect their health.
What happens if you are the employee and you are struggling to get to work when the ‘Beast’ rears its head again? Will you be paid? There is no automatic, legal right to be paid for a working day that you have missed, even if the reason for your absence is snow or ice.
The first thing you need to do is check your employer’s policy on adverse weather conditions. This should explain to you what is expected of you and what your options are. If your employer does not have a policy, then you will have to have the conversation with them directly. You could discuss various options with your employer – you could take unpaid leave, book a days’ holiday or make the time up, with your employer’s agreement. If you do find yourself unable to travel into work due to the weather, then you should inform your employer as soon as possible. Whilst your employer cannot make you take a journey that you feel is unsafe, they do not have to pay you if you do not attend work.
If your employer does not pay you for a “snow day”, you will need to firstly establish a legal right to the wages in question. This could be done by reviewing your contract to see if this contains any contractual terms permitting your employer to deduct pay, considering any agreement that was made with your employer, and looking at your employer’s business practice in the past. Legally, your employer is under no obligation to pay you if you fail to attend work, as it can be argued that you are in breach of your contract of employment.
If you are a parent of a child under the age of 18 and your child’s school or childcare is closed, then you will have the right to take a reasonable amount of emergency leave – unpaid time off to find alternative arrangements to care for your child.
The key point for both employers and employees alike to remember is that if you act reasonably, are prepared to show some flexibility in working practices and communicate with each other then heavy snow and ice should be a breeze.