Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow…

29th November 2010

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow…

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Despite us having at least one decent period of snow each year, are employers ready to cope with the consequences?

During the snow we had at the start of this year, I negotiated a termination settlement while my client was trapped in his car on a motorway. Luckily, his mobile phone was working, frankly he was happy to chat to anyone about anything and he was eventually rescued. But with the snow falling again and being stuck working from home today, it got me thinking about what employers do to cope with this kind of disruption.

Many employers, particularly in Scotland, are facing the fact this morning that a good proportion of their workforce have not been able to get in to work and will be wondering whether they have to pay them. If your employees are set up to work from home this will not be much of a problem. However, many employees need to be at their place of work to be able to do their work. What happens to them?

An employee who is ready and able to work is entitled to be paid unless there is an express term in their contract of employment providing otherwise. It follows that an employee stranded at home who can’t work is not able to work and therefore not ready to offer his or her services for the day. Consequently, there is no right to be paid.

However, if an employee is stranded somewhere while on a work trip, you will have to pay the salary because the employee was away for work reasons and is treated as carrying out duties in connection with work.

So, employers should check their terms and conditions to see whether there is anything in them that covers this kind of situation (it is unlikely: I can’t remember ever seeing this kind of term). Employers should also think about what they have done in the past. If an employer has commonly paid staff for missed days because of bad weather, it may have become custom and practice to do so.

If you refuse to pay staff because they are stuck at home, it may well cause friction and low morale, so it would be a good idea to be flexible with staff and to discuss with all of them whether there are any alternative ways of getting the work done. They could for example work an extra day in lieu of the missed day.

If you are determined not to pay employees for missed days, you could speak to your employees about whether they want to take the days as holiday. They will need to have sufficient holiday entitlement left and you may not be able to insist that they take it.

Many schools are also closed today. If your employee is off work because their children’s school is closed or their childminder is stuck, the employee may be able to take dependant care leave. This ‘eave is to deal with emergencies such as this and is unpaid, unless your contract says otherwise. You do not have to pay for the missed day but will not be able to insist that your employee comes into work.

If you have to close your workplace you will have an obligation to pay your staff even if they could not make it anyway unless your contracts of employment provide for an entitlement to lay off your staff. If employees are laid off without pay in accordance with their contracts, provided they have at least one month’s length of service and have not turned down a suitable alternative offer of work, they are entitled to a guarantee payment form the government. The rate is £21.20 per day with a maximum of £106 for five workless days in a month.

With the winters seemingly getting colder and the snow coming earlier and staying longer, is there anything you can do to plan for this kind of situation?

Think about introducing a policy about work disruption. It could include:

  • what employees should do to keep their employer notified of their situation
  • what work could be done remotely
  • what employees will be paid
  • any rules on taking holiday
  • flexibility of the workforce who have made it in: you will be expected to do anything necessary!

With the cold snap due to get worse, we would suggest you keep in touch with your employees and encourage them to come in, even if they are going to be late. Be flexible and sympathetic if possible, but make sure you are clear about what you expect from them. And plan!

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