What are your rights if you are unable to get to work because of snow?

You are not automatically entitled to be paid for the days you are unable to get to work because of bad weather.

The starting point is that any leave you take (whether authorised or not) will be unpaid unless it is taken as holiday. However, this can depend on the circumstances, and it is open for employers to make provision for bad weather in either the contract of employment, handbook or relevant policies. This could include paid leave, or the option to work from home.

Some employers will pay you if the weather is bad even if it isn’t written into a contract. Over time, this could be implied into your terms and conditions through custom and practice.

What should employers do?

If you handle bad weather and travel disruptions poorly, you can adversely affect staff morale. Getting it right can increase productivity, for example, by allowing staff to work flexibly and from home. Employers should consider alternative working patterns and staff who can instead cover at short notice. Employers should also try to provide employees with use of laptops and smartphones so they are able to work from home.

Deal with issues fairly

Procedures should be carried out properly and fairly, which will help maintain good, fair and consistent employment relations. This will assist in preventing any complaints or potential claims.

Plan ahead

Consider reviewing your policies and think about how to handle different scenarios. It may be appropriate to put an ‘adverse weather’ or ‘journey to work’ policy in place. This would deal with steps which employees must take if they cannot attend work. Employers need to decide how to deal with lateness and what happens in respect of pay. There is then much less scope for confusion and complaints.

What should employees do?

Your employer can ask you to take paid holiday – but only if they give you adequate notice. This must be at least double the length of time of the annual leave they want you to take, so for example, if they want you to take 2 days’ annual leave then you need to be given four days’ notice. However, you should check your employment contact as a different notice period may apply.

Unless it is stated in your contract, your employer cannot force you to take unpaid time off. If you are ready, willing and able to come to work you have a right to do so – if your employer decides to shut down for the day, then you still have the right to be paid. In these circumstances, your employer may ask you to work from another location, work from home, or make up the time later.

However, if it is business as usual for your employer but you cannot reasonably make it in to work, you should agree whether the time will be taken as paid or unpaid leave.

If paid leave, your employer has the right to expect you to either work from home (if this is possible) or alternatively, may agree to you taking the time off as annual leave. If you are unable to agree to take paid leave, then your employer has the right to treat the time off as unpaid. So, before you get carried away dreaming of snow angels, carefully consider whether you can get to work safely, because you may be looking at an expensive sledging trip if not.

Time off due to school closures

If your child’s school is closed or their normal childcare arrangements are disrupted due to the snow, and you are unable to find anyone else to care for them, then you potentially have the right to take reasonable time off to look after them. However, this right only applies in emergency situations when it is not possible to make alternative arrangements. This right also applies if you have any other dependents that you need to care for in an emergency situation (such as grandparents).

A school being shut or a breakdown in caring arrangements at short notice may be considered an emergency. Therefore, you are likely to be entitled to a reasonable amount of time off to make alternative arrangements. However, what is ‘reasonable’ will depend on the facts.

You are also entitled to take a reasonable amount of unpaid time off work to deal with an emergency involving someone who depends on you for help or care. This is usually when  a spouse, partner, child or parent becomes ill or injured, or you need to deal with an unexpected disruption or breakdown of care arrangements for someone.

What is reasonable will depend on your circumstances, but one or two days would usually be considered appropriate. You should inform your employer as soon as possible.

Despite the right being granted by law, your employer may think less of you for taking the time off. If they refuse to allow you to take time off, you could complain to an Employment Tribunal to enforce your rights. If you are penalised – such as being demoted, passed over for promotion, dismissed, or have your hours reduced, you could bring a claim against them which could include unfair dismissal.

You do not have an automatic right to take time off work to care for non-dependants.

Your employer cannot force you to attempt the journey, so if it is too dangerous to get to work, the best advice is to stay at home.

If you do decide to stay at home, make sure your reasons are genuine.

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