What to do in the event of a snow day
You may have seen in the news this week there are rumblings about the adverse weather from the US coming to the UK in coming weeks’ with some saying we will have the coldest December in a long time.
This may or may not happen, but it struck me that we have in recent years had times when the weather has hit us unexpectedly and caused no end of travel nightmares. For example back in 2010 the snow came unexpectedly to the Isle of Wight and I recall many tales of those who were stuck walking home from work. I myself travelled back from the mainland several days after the first downfall but unable to get my car out of its snow filled hole had to walk 3 miles in the snow to get home. I took the picture above on my travels that day.
So what to do in the event of a snow day?
Things to consider:
- Contingency planning
Do you have a contingency plan to continue running your business in the event that staff cannot physically attend at work?
- Health and safety
Don’t be like one employer who ended up in the Employment Appeal Tribunal because their adverse weather policy stated that, in the event of road closures, employees unable to travel to work, should instead report to a local supermarket car park. They were instructed to wait there for three hours (yes that’s right 3 hours!) and if no-one had come to collect them or tell them what to do next they were entitled to go home and still receive their pay for that day.
When the policy was called into action several employees went to their local supermarket and were told go in the employer’s transport to work. The employees refused to travel in the employer’s transport due to health and safety concerns. The road had been closed by the local authorities and the employees questioned whether they should be travelling. After three hours waiting the road was still closed, and so the employees returned home.
The employer refused to pay them for that day and they pursued a claim for unlawful deduction from their wages, and detriment. For a variety of reasons the employees were successful with their claim.
Personally I would caution against any policy that requires your employees to wait outside in the cold for three hours!
- Communication with employees
Be clear at a management level how decisions will be communicated to employees.
Consider setting up a telephone tree, so that decisions about travel, office closures and communication from individual employees can be managed.
- Expectations of employees
Make clear what your expectations are for employees in the event of adverse weather.
We all know an employee who will try to get to work regardless, they will don their walking boots and find a way to make it in. Then there are those employees who at the first sight of a black cloud will lock the door and refuse to leave.
You need to make clear your expectations to all staff so that you reduce risk of liability to your business whilst encouraging staff to make the best efforts when safe to do so.
- Pay for ‘Snow Days’
If an employee has a contractual right to be paid in the event they cannot attend work then it would be unlawful to deduct wages from them.
In the absence of any definitive contractual term or policy on the point you could have potential liability to pay your employees for ‘snow days’.
The case law on the subject is not conclusive and therefore any dispute in the Employment Tribunal could go either way and the rights of employees who are unable to work may come down to what has happened historically, i.e. if you have paid in the past then you may be obliged to pay in the future.
- Home working
If this can work for your business you may want to consider setting up access for emergencies for staff to be able to undertake work from home.
Often we will have some notice if bad weather is due, and you could encourage staff, where practical, to take some work home over night in the event that they are unable to come into the office the next day.
- Time off for dependants
Parents for example may find a situation where their child’s school is closed and therefore they would have the legal right to take a reasonable amount of time off because of the disruption in accordance with the right to time off for dependants contained in the Employment Rights Act.
There is no legal right to be paid for this time off, however you may include something in your contracts or policies. In which case you would have to honour this.
- Get a good policy in place before it happens.
What to include in your Policy?
- When the policy will be applicable.
- What to do about travel to work.
- Alternative working arrangements.
- Making up time if late in or early leaving.
- How absence will be paid.
- Whether employees can make up time for days not worked.
- Whether employees can designate a day of annual leave.
- School closures and childcare issues.