Storm Desmond’s heavy rainfall has seen southern Scotland, northern England and north Wales experience record-breaking flooding, in places.
Closer to home, the first snowflakes of winter have fallen in Elgin during this week and many of us are crossing our fingers for a White Christmas.
We all know that adverse weather (whether floods, snow, gale force winds or whatever) can cause major disruption to the workforce, with a resultant headache for employers.
But what are your rights when bad weather stops you getting to work?
No legal right to paid time off
There is usually no legal right for an employee to have paid time off, if they are unable to get to work or are late for work due to travel disruptions and / or bad weather.
Limited exceptions to this rule exist. For example, where travel time is classed as “working time” (which will not be discussed in this article).
Good employer – employee communications will help
What happens in practice during periods of adverse weather is therefore down to each employer to decide and communicate to their staff.
Despite the news headlines at this time of year, it should not come as a surprise to employers or employees that there may be poor weather conditions, particularly in the winter.
We live in Scotland; it’s 5 degrees in the summer!
Rather than await the chaos (warranted or otherwise) that bad weather brings, we would recommend employers to act now by implementing an Adverse Weather Policy.
What should an adverse weather policy contain?
The policy should strike a balance between protecting the health and safety of the staff and ensuring the business continues to run as effectively as it can.
The policy could provide for the following types of problems.
Where employees’ journeys to work are delayed or have to be cancelled, weather may or may not be a factor.
Commuting to work is a part of many people’s daily lives and travel disruptions, unfortunately, are common. Employees should make every effort to arrive at work on time, as normal.
If bad weather is a concern, as an employee, you should consider making alternative transport arrangements or leaving extra time. When a delay is unavoidable, you should follow normal absence procedures to let your employer know you will be late or not in at all.
Alternative working arrangements
It may be an option for employees to work from another, more easily-accessible, location or perhaps working from home is feasible.
It would be advisable to have a separate Home Working Policy to ensure the health and safety of employees working from home as well as making the expectations clear.
Flexible working arrangements may also need to be considered. Employees could start later and / or finish earlier, making up the time at a later date.
When there are official weather warnings, employers should not discourage employees from following the advice and should allow flexibility, where possible.
Absences and pay
It is at the discretion of the employer whether or not employees are paid, if they are absent or late due to adverse weather conditions.
Most employers do not pay employees in this situation.
However, as a gesture of goodwill, some employers allow up to 3 days paid leave in any annual leave year to cover absences of this nature. If this were to be the case, we would suggest that special paid leave is only allowed where the manager is satisfied that the employee has made every effort to make it in to work and if working elsewhere or from home is not feasible.
The difficulty with discretionary payments is that they are not always applied consistently. In turn, this is likely to cause friction amongst employees.
Imagine the resentful employee who lives near the workplace. Instead of benefiting from a paid ‘snow day’ like their colleague who lives miles away, they end up being rushed off their feet covering that colleague’s workload – before having to trudge through the snow back to their centrally-located home.
Employers can decide to treat absences in a number of different ways. For example –
- As annual leave (noting that a limited number of days’ leave could be used from the next leave year, if there is not enough annual leave remaining);
- As time off in lieu;
- Employees to make up the lost hours within a reasonable period;
- Unpaid leave (this should be referenced in the employee’s contract to avoid any claim that the deduction is unlawful).
If the employer decides to close the office due to severe weather, employees should be paid as normal.
Whatever approach employers want to adopt, it should be made clear in the Adverse Weather Policy.
School closures / childcare issues
Those with dependants can take unpaid time off if there is a childcare emergency.
If a school closure is announced in advance – and no other childcare arrangements can be made in time – employees should be reminded that they can take unpaid time off to care for their child.
Training and disciplinary aspects
As with any policy, it should be communicated to the workforce and, if necessary, training should be provided to those who will be handling the day-to-day aspects of weather disruption.
If an employer has reason to believe that an employee is using the weather as a convenient excuse not to come in to work, the employer can choose to investigate the issue in the same way as any other potential disciplinary matter – and take disciplinary action if necessary.
How we can help
All initial enquiries are free of charge and without obligation.
Note: This article was originally published on the Moray Employment Law website in December 2015.