Adverse Weather Policy Employment Issues
The view from my office window today is festive! A light sprinkling of snow has fallen, and the garden looks as pretty as a picture – covering the multiple of sins that lurk beneath! I used to live in perennial fear of a snow forecast or adverse weather knowing the carnage this would cause to my daily commute. I am now fortunate to be able to work from home. However, for many, remote working is not permitted or feasible. And so, with the winter solstice looming ever closer, now is an appropriate time to remind ourselves of the legal position for those who find themselves delayed or unable to attend work or who are prevented from attending work because of seasonal bad weather.
If a worker cannot get to work because of bad weather, they must inform their employer of this as soon as possible. There is no automatic legal right for a worker to be paid for working time they have missed because of travel disruption or bad weather.
If employer provides transport and this is cancelled because of bad weather or travel disruption, and a worker was otherwise ready, willing and available to work, the worker should be paid for any working time they have missed.
Some contracts and workplace policies may have special arrangements covering this kind of situation, or discretionary, informal arrangements in relation to pay. Other companies may have an actual adverse weather policy in place so it is important to check this out!
Where a worker is ready, willing and able to work but is prevented from doing so because the employer closes the business or reduces working hours or, if other essential staff such as line managers or staff who facilitate access to the premises are unable to get into work then workers will usually be entitled to their normal pay for any working time they have missed.
Workers should consider if there are any contracts or an adverse weather policy which provides guidance as to what workers need to do in such circumstances. This might include working at the nearest accessible workplace, doing other duties as a temporary measure, or working from home. Temporary variation of working hours, use of flexible working to allow workers make up any lost working time, allowing swopping of shifts and overtime, temporary home working and allowing workers to take time off as paid annual leave are also options to be considered.
Additionally, some contracts may allow employers to ‘lay off’ some staff without pay. However, provisions as to lay off need to be clear and statutory guarantee payments may apply.
Employers should be flexible, fair, and consistent. They should communicate clearly with all workers and ensure that they consider each individual’s personal circumstances so as not to inadvertently discriminate against them or subject them to less favourable treatment. Communication is key.
Emergency dependant leave
In an emergency situation involving a dependent, anyone with employee status has the right to take a “reasonable amount” of unpaid time off. This is usually said to be a day or two at most. If more time off is needed, it would usually fall under another category, such as paid annual leave, or perhaps compassionate leave.
Situations could include:
- school is closed and a worker cannot leave their child.
- caring arrangements for a disabled dependant relative are cancelled.
- a partner is seriously injured as a result of bad weather.
An employee should talk to their employer as soon as they know that they may need to take time off, explaining:
- exactly what the issue is
- the likely length of the absence
- that they are taking the time off to look after dependants.
An employer and employee could agree that the employee will use some of their annual leave for this time off, so the employee does not miss out on pay.
Anyone with worker status will need to come to an arrangement with their employer.
Health and Safety
If low temperatures make it unsafe for workers to carry out their roles, then the employer should address this. An employer should consider changes such as relaxing their dress code to enable staff to wear warmer clothing; allow extra breaks to make hot drinks; or bring in extra heating options such as portable heaters.
An employer should take extra care for vulnerable workers, such as pregnant workers. If a risk cannot be avoided or removed some workers may have to be sent home to protect their health, usually on full pay.
An employer can provide clarity to employees and help prevent confusion by planning ahead with a travel disruption or adverse weather policy. That policy should include clear reporting procedures and what staff need to do in the event that their work or travel arrangements are disrupted due to bad weather.
This blog was written by Kate Lea, Senior Solicitor at didlaw