What’s the legal situation when snow keeps people at home?

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What’s the legal situation when snow keeps people at home?

What’s the legal situation when snow keeps people at home?As wintry conditions sweep the UK this New Year, snowfalls and ice have already caused disruption across Scotland and Northern England, with six inches covering the ground in parts of Cumbria, and temperatures of -10⁰ expected in the Pennines. It gives rise to interesting questions: should an employee still get paid if they are snowed in and physically unable to get to work? Or what if a school is closed because of the weather and a parent has to stay at home to provide childcare?

While the white stuff can be fun for many, for others who can’t get to their workplace, it can be quite stressful. So the question of whether or not members of staff are still entitled to be paid in extreme weather is a frequently asked one.

Generally speaking, an employee doesn’t have a legal right to be paid if snow keeps them at home. But some employers might have policies and procedures contractually agreed, perhaps collectively negotiated through a union or simply established through custom and practice to cover these and other similar situations. So the first place for an employee to look for an answer is their Employee Handbook and/or their HR department.

There has been some suggestion that employers have to pay when non-attendance is not the staff member’s fault, and that an employer could be challenged in court for withholding payment. However, given the lack of an absolute right to be paid, and assuming there is no established procedure in place, an employee is likely to find it very hard to create a watertight legal case that they should still be paid.

Of course, employers can consider alternatives, such as letting staff take the time as holiday (where appropriate) or work from home. Indeed, handled well, employers can actually use the opportunity to boost morale and at the same time achieve a reasonable level of productivity from their staff. The important thing is to have a fair and balanced approach so that proper recognition is also given to those who do make the effort to struggle in through the blizzards.

When the local school is closed, employees may be forced to stay at home to look after their children. They have a right in those circumstances to take a reasonable time off to do so. That right is unpaid but some employers might have a policy which provides that the employee will be paid for a defined period of absence. Where the employee is taking time off to look after a dependant in this way, the employer can’t force the employee to take the time off as holiday or to suffer any other kind of loss.

If, as an employer, you would like guidance on how to deal with or plan ahead for staff problems caused by the winter weather, or you would like to know, as an employee, what your rights are, our Employment department will be very happy to help.

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