How to deal with bad weather disruptions

Bad weather disruptions

With winter in full swing, adverse weather has – and maybe will – cause disruption to employees’ commute to the workplace, and consequently their ability to work full stop.

To help you handle the disruption bad weather days can bring, we’ve compiled a loaded list of FAQs. So, let’s get stuck in…

1. What happens if an employee can’t attend work because of the weather?

Unless there’s something in the employee’s handbook, contract or collective agreement, or an established custom and practice that says otherwise, you’re not legally required to pay the employee.

If you wish, at your discretion, you could decide to make a discretionary payment to the employee. However, if you do, there are several implications to consider beforehand:

  • You may be setting a precedent that days off work due to bad weather are paid. This could result in employees pushing their luck and taking time off when it’s not actually necessary.
  • You should be consistent with your stance. If you decide to pay one employee and not another, you must be able to justify your decision.
  • Employees who have managed to make their way into work may feel disgruntled if others are being paid to spend the day at home.

2. What happens if the school, nursery etc. of an employee’s child closes due to the weather?

If bad weather results in an employee who is a carer unexpectedly needing time off to care for a child or dependent, they’re entitled to a reasonable amount of unpaid emergency time off.

What constitutes ‘reasonable’ will depend on the employee’s circumstances. As an example, let’s pretend that an employee called Jane has a daughter in primary school, and she’s told you that her husband is on holiday for one week at the start of February.

If Jane’s daughter’s school closes due to bad weather the week her husband is away, it’s unlikely to be reasonable for Jane to be entitled to unpaid time off to care for her daughter. Why? Because she presumably already made alternative caring arrangements if she knew in advance that her husband wouldn’t be around.

3. What if there is an essential reason why the employee is needed in work?

However important it is for the employee to be in work, you shouldn’t pressurise them into coming in. This would be unreasonable conduct and, worst case, could undermine your duty of trust and confidence.

It’s also important to understand and remember that employees will have different attitudes and concerns when it comes to driving or travelling in bad weather conditions. If you think an employee’s unreasonably claiming to need the day off though, then this is different – we’ll cover this next.

4. What happens if one employee says they can’t attend work because of the weather but another employee, who travels the same journey, has managed to get in?

You should be mindful of employees using the weather as an excuse not to attend work, while simultaneously ensuring you’re reasonable. With this in mind, consider that while one employee may have managed to get into work, they may have been prepared to take the risks – it’s not reasonable to expect all employees to take the risk.

However, if you suspect the employee’s just using the weather as an excuse to say they can’t commute to work then, in the first instance, we’d recommend having an informal ‘back-to-work’ discussion to investigate why exactly the employee didn’t make it to work.

If the employee’s unable to produce a reasonable explanation, ultimately, they can be disciplined. If you decide to go down the disciplinary route though, remember to make sure you’re certain of the facts they’ve given first – as we mentioned earlier, you shouldn’t expect employees to take unreasonable risks to get to work.

5. What happens if an employee can’t travel to work but also states that they’re ill?

In this instance, it’s important to establish why the employee isn’t able to attend work – because they’re ill or because they can’t travel. If they say it’s because they’re too unwell to work, then you should pay the employee sick pay in line with their contractual/statutory entitlement.

However, if this is the case, the employee should be expected to comply with all your usual sickness policy and sickness reporting procedures.

6. What happens if the employer provides the transport to work?

If you’ve contractually agreed to provide employees with transport from their home to their place of work, are forced to cancel the transport due to bad weather, and are unable to arrange any alternative transport, it’s likely you’ll need to pay the employee – in full – for the day off.

7. What happens if an employer closes the workplace?

Before you consider closing the workplace because of bad weather, you should first check employees’ signed contracts to see if you have the right to lay off employees if there’s no work.

If you do have the right, you should pay employees at the ‘Statutory Guarantee Pay’ rate which is currently (as of January 2022) £30 per day (for the first five workless days or the normal number of days worked in a week if less than five) in any 13 week period. If you’re a Citation client, your contracts should include a clause on this.

If you don’t have the right to lay-off, closing the workplace would mean you’re failing your duty to provide employees with work. As a result, you’d need to pay employees who were prepared to attend work – in full.

8. Can annual leave be used to cover a ‘bad weather day’

To be paid in full, providing employees have enough annual leave left, they can indeed take a ‘bad weather day’ as annual leave.

If you want to enforce that annual leave is taken to cover a ‘bad weather day’, then you’d need to give employees the correct amount of notice to take holiday – this is double the length of the holiday required.

So, for example, if employees are required to take one day holiday, you’d need to give them two days’ notice. However, given the unpredictability of ‘bad weather days’, often this isn’t workable.

9. What alternatives are there to not getting into work because of the weather?

You could consider some of the following:

  • Allowing employees to work from home (but remember, if an employee’s contract doesn’t allow this, you can’t enforce it);
  • Varying work hours – to cover childcare disruptions caused by bad weather, for example;
  • Letting employees work from another site that’s closer to home;
  • Permitting employees to take annual leave; or
  • Letting employees make the time up once the weather disruption has passed.

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