After some of the worst weather since 1991, the Beast from the East appears to have been tamed and people are starting to get back to normality which means, for the most part, the daily commute is once again routine.
Weather like we have seen in the past week has highlighted the concerns of both employers and workers as to what their rights are if workers are unable to get to work because of the adverse weather conditions. For some, the journey to work would have simply been too dangerous to attempt and for others the widespread closure of schools meant that childcare was an issue. But what can be done if this situation arises again?
Firstly, 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 workers are unable to get to work as a result of adverse weather conditions, usually the best course of action is to come to an agreement with the worker as to how to manage this. For example, it could be agreed that workers make up the lost time later, work from another office or work from home as far as possible (technology and childcare permitting). Some contracts and workplace policies may have special arrangements covering this kind of situation.
Additionally, it may be agreed that workers can take annual leave instead. However, those workers who receive the statutory minimum entitlement to annual leave are entitled to a minimum notice period before employers can compel them to take the leave. They must be given a notice period that is the equivalent of twice the length of the leave (i.e. they must be given two days' notice if they are to take a day's leave). However, this does not apply if a worker gets more leave than the statutory minimum (typically 28 days including bank holidays) and in such a case, employers may be able to compel workers to take leave without giving any notice where it is reasonable to do so and subject to what is contained within their employment contracts. With regards to unpaid holiday, employers cannot force workers to take the time as unpaid holiday, unless it is already written into their contract. Otherwise, employers would need a worker’s permission to deduct the money from their pay packet.
In an emergency involving a dependent (for example when a child’s school is closed, caring arrangements are cancelled, or a partner is seriously injured as a result of the snow), anyone with employee status has the right to take time off. Employees are entitled in law to a reasonable amount of time off to make alternative arrangements but what is regarded as "reasonable" depends on individual circumstances and it is important to remember that the time off is to make alternative arrangements rather than to spend the time looking after the dependents. This time will usually be unpaid unless a contract or policy says otherwise.
If a workplace is closed because of inclement weather, workers will be entitled to pay, and they cannot be required to take the time as annual leave. However, workers should not be too quick to get their sledges out, as they could still be expected to work from home or from another workplace. If workers are on annual leave when the workplace shuts, how this is dealt with depends on any relevant policies in place and whether other employees are still expected to work while the business is shut. Workers may be able to claim their holiday back if everyone else is being given a day off, but if other colleagues are expected to work from home or continue to attend meetings, then it is less likely.
It is important to remember that employers should not force or pressure workers to attempt a journey to work if there are safety reasons why workers should not travel. Whatever options are decided on, an employer should keep in communication with their workers and be flexible, fair and consistent.
If your require any assistance with reviewing or drafting of policies that relate to bad weather, or more generally, then please get in touch with a member of the Employment team who will be happy to assist.