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Snow Days: Employee Rights

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Generally, severe weather conditions like heavy snowfall or rain cause widespread disruption of employment services.

While schools shut down, employees struggle to get to work. Considering alternative means of travel is one option during bad weather. However, many working professionals take the day off and stay at home because it is not safe to travel.

What many people don’t realise is that it often means they won’t get paid. Although employment law in the UK and discretionary company policies allow some leeway to employees if they are unable to reach office due to bad weather, it is important that employees know their rights and responsibilities in such situations.

If your company has a policy dealing with bad weather disruption, you should make efforts to know about the effect on your pay and other aspects of your employment. To help, we take a closer look at employee rights during heavy snow days.

What if I cannot get to work due to severe weather conditions like heavy snow?

If you are expected to attend work but cannot because of the snowfall, you must inform your unavailability to your line manager as soon as possible.

You can send an email or text, depending on your working relationship with your manager.

However, it is considered both courteous and effective to inform over the phone and make sure they get your message.

Under no circumstances can your employer pressure you to travel to work in dangerous weather conditions. Similarly, they should not compel you to work in any other situation that is unsafe.

This is particularly applicable in the case of employees who have physical disabilities.

Some employers may have some custom, contractual and practice arrangements relating to wage distribution in place to handle such situations.

Overall, if you fail to inform your line manager and be absent from work, you could be accused of not complying with your employment contract and face disciplinary actions including loss of pay in the worst case scenario.

What if the workplace is closed? Am I entitled to be paid?

Generally, if heavy snow occurs, many workplaces close operations. Subsequently, if you are unable to work from home or another workplace, then you are entitled to be paid in full unless your employment contract states otherwise.

Also, your employer cannot ask you to take it as annual leave without providing proper notice. Although, it is worth checking the policies about this in your staff handbook and/or employment contract.

The rules that apply in all such situations are quite complex, and therefore, you should also take legal advice from a reputable employment lawyer.

Where can I learn about my company’s policy?

Normally, employees are not entitled to get paid in such situations, but different companies have different policies. While some employers may have it included in staff contracts, some may have designed a collective agreement that allows you pay in a case where you are unable to get to work due to unforeseeable circumstances.

There are employers who may agree with you making up for the lost work hours at some future date or you working from home on that day. The key here is to go through all documentation provided to you during initiation like employment contracts, holiday calendars and policy update emails. This way, you can make yourself familiar with all the rules and regulations related to your work.

I cannot come to work because my child’s school is closed. What are my rights?

In the case of employees with children, they have the right to take the time off whenever there is an unexpected disruption of childcare arrangements. You should tell your immediate superior or employer the reason for taking the time off as soon as reasonably possible and for how long you expect to be away from work.

You should also confirm with your employer to see their approach on this, but generally, you do not have an entitlement to be paid for the time you are taking off from work. Here, you must consider that you are simply protected from experiencing any detriment for taking the time from work and take care of your child.

Are there any other discretionary schemes in case of disruption due to heavy snowfall?

There are employers who implement certain discretionary schemes (usually mentioned in the employee’s contract of employment, collective agreements or staff handbooks).

Under these regulations, the company can make discretionary wage payments to those employees who cannot get to work due to bad weather. However, there are situations in which employers may have to pay anyway, such as:

  • When the travel time is paid, for example, healthcare workers who are paid to travel from one client to another.
  • In certain specific circumstances, when the employer is availing the transport facility, like a bus service for example.

What to expect from employers?

Generally, employers need to be consistent and follow proper procedures. If it is not safe for the employees to travel to work, employers should not compel them to do so.

Similarly, employers should be aware of the risk of inadvertently discriminating in practices or policies against certain employees. Employees including those having school-age children or those with a disability should not be forced to travel if bad weather like heavy snowfall disrupts services.

Under no circumstances should employers make an unfair dismissal, without considering the employee’s reason for the absence. If any such behaviour is experienced, employees can take employment law advice and file an employment tribunal claim seeking unfair dismissal compensation.