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Amy White

Partner - Uckfield

19th March 2018

Adverse weather – know your rights

Although heavy snowfall is unusual in the UK, when it does descend and once the initial excitement of snowball fights and wearing your ski gear is over, it often creates total chaos for employers and workers alike. A five minute journey to work can take two hours. School closures lead to sudden childcare issues for many employees. Road closures make access to many areas impossible. As a result, companies often face a major loss of man hours and subsequent loss of revenue.

Do you have a plan in place for “snow days” and do you know where you stand?

Employers should always plan for adverse weather conditions and consequent disruption and it is advisable to include an Adverse Weather and Travel Disruption Policy in your company’s handbook so that staff are aware of procedures to be followed in such circumstances. By necessity, an employer will need to be flexible in terms of what they can expect from their employees and health and safety issues must always be borne in mind.

Are you obliged to pay your employees if they are unable to get to work?

This will vary from company to company, but generally, if an employee is absent from work due to extreme weather, they are not entitled to be paid for the time lost. An employer does have discretion on this point however, and may give employees the option to take the day off as paid annual leave, to make up the lost hours within a reasonable timeframe or to treat the absence as flexitime or time off in lieu.

In addition, companies may insert specific clauses in their contracts of employment which cover the arrangements in respect of payment or non payment for employees who are unable to get to work for reasons beyond their control.

Is an employee entitled to be paid if their workplace is closed?

A decision to close a workplace will not be taken lightly but may be necessary in extreme circumstances due to the impossibility of guaranteeing employees’ health and safety. Yes, in these circumstances, an employee will be entitled to receive payment as it is the employer who has taken the decision to close the workplace. The employer is entitled however, if the necessary IT infrastructure is in place, to ask its employees to work from home, reducing the loss of productivity due to the workplace closure.

How is a school closure dealt with? Can an employee simply take a day off?

Where employees need to make sudden alternative arrangements in terms of childcare due to a school closure, they may take advantage of the right to take time off to deal with an emergency situation. This is known as Time Off for Dependants which is available to all employees from day one of their employment. The time off is unpaid, although employers have discretion in this area and may have specific contractual arrangements. An employee should keep their employer fully informed as to the likely duration of any absence, but it is expected that the absence will be a short one to allow the employee to arrange alternative childcare while the school remains closed. Although this right is most frequently used for absences due to childcare issues, it is also available to those with elderly dependants whose care arrangements may also need to be re-arranged in adverse weather conditions.

An alternative option in these circumstances would be for an employee to take the day off as paid annual leave if this is agreed with the employer.

For more information or to discuss these issues further please email Amy White, Employment Solicitor e: amywhite@rixandkay.co.uk

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