Snow days: What should employers do if staff cannot travel to work because of bad weather?
With the Met Office warning that snow and ice may make travelling difficult this week, what should employers do to manage snow days? Coodes Solicitors Employment Lawyer Philip Sayers explains.
With extreme weather set to hit the UK, employers are likely to be concerned about employees being unable to make it into work. Some workplaces may close for snow days, while others will need to manage high levels of absence.
Do I have to pay my employees on snow days?
Employees do not generally have the right to be paid on snow days, although it can be a little more complex with employees who are salaried, rather than on an hourly rate. If you are unsure about this, it is worth getting advice.
Many employers will make discretionary payments in these circumstances, but there not generally a legal entitlement to payment. Employers can usually require employees to take annual leave or unpaid leave in these circumstances. There is an argument that if employers have historically paid employees on snow days that this has, by custom and practice, become an implied right. However, my advice would be that as we as a region very rarely get prolonged severe weather that the payment of an odd day is customary but for a period of several days would prove unsustainable.
If you have a genuine belief that a member of staff could make it in and did not then it is an unauthorised absence. You would then need to follow your disciplinary procedure.
Do I have to pay employees if I close the workplace because of snow?
In some cases, employers will take the decision to close a workplace because if snow. This is likely to be if there will not be enough staff in attendance to make it viable to open. If you choose to close the workplace, employees on a salary or contractually guaranteed hours would generally have to be paid and should not be forced to take their annual leave. However, depending on the nature of their work, you could request staff to work from home.
An employer may be able to rely on contractual clauses permitting them to put the employee on temporary lay off. If you employ staff on a zero hours contract, you may not need to pay your staff. You should seek advice on this.
What if an employee has an accident trying to get into work?
What if an employee tells you they can’t make it in and you compel them to do so? If they have an accident whether on foot or in the car, the employer is potentially negligent.
If an employee slips over on an icy council pavement, you may have a claim against the council. The council owes exactly the same duty of care to pedestrians as it does to motorists. If the employee slips on the steps up to the front door of work then this is the responsibility of you as the employer.
What should employers do to safeguard themselves?
Have disaster recovery plans in place to ensure that key personnel are contactable at all times whether remotely or not and make provision for people who genuinely cannot make it in to work from home. Your plan should ensure that at least a skeleton staff can make it to avoid a drop in client care levels. Ensure that where necessary you can use agency staff to fill gaps to ensure services runs seamlessly as possible.
Employers should have clear reporting procedures in place. Employees should know who to call and by what time. They should keep you posted if conditions change. Have clear procedures in place in respect of pay for leave and ensure they are applied consistently.