It’s winter – where do employers stand with difficult weather conditions?

We respond to five frequently asked issues from businesses regarding the effects of extreme weather on the workplace as areas of the UK experience significant snowfall.

1. Do I have to pay employees who cannot get to work because of cold temperatures?

In theory, it would be legal for you to refuse to pay an employee who misses work due to inclement weather, such as a lot of snow. This is so that you are not required to pay an employee who is not working in accordance with the terms of their employment contract.

2. As an employer, do I actually need a severe weather policy?

The policy might only be necessary a few times a year, but it is still a good idea to inform your staff of the guidelines that will be followed if they are unable to get to work due to inclement weather.

The policy can be broad enough to cover disruptions brought on by everything from terrorism to extreme weather, strikes on public transportation, and natural disasters. This is true even if the employee’s absence was caused by circumstances beyond his or her control, such as severe weather.

The letter of the law suggests one way in this job circumstance, but common sense compels a different practical response. The advantages may outweigh the cost burden on your company of paying employees even when they are not working due to inclement weather. If you pay employees on a snow day, it may improve employee morale and your standing as a good employer in the long run.

3. What are my options if I need employees to work even though the weather is bad?

Many occupations nowadays can be completed from home, therefore when inclement weather is forecast, employees who regularly work from home should be encouraged to continue doing so.

Employers must use caution when requesting that staff members work from home if such a request is not expressly made in the employment contracts. If not, requiring an employee to work from home during severe weather will be considered a unilateral change to the terms of their employment and will call for an earlier discussion with the affected workers. Before requiring employees to work from home, employers should take into account the health and safety implications of doing so. Some employees’ houses may not be configured to function as temporary workplaces.

3. Can employees take periods when they cannot get to work because of poor weather as annual leave?

There is no set legal minimum temperature for the workplace under health and safety laws. All indoor workspaces must have a “reasonable” temperature. Two minimal temperatures are advised by the Health and Safety Executive: one for sedentary work and one where physical exertion is required. If poor weather prevents workers from getting to work, they may be able to take the time off as paid annual leave.

Nothing prevents you from asking employees whether they’d like to take an extra day off if they can’t make it to work.

Taking a paid holiday will be preferred by many workers over losing a day’s salary. There might be instances, though, where it isn’t feasible.

4: If I close my workplace because of bad weather, do I have to pay my staff?

You must pay workers who work remotely their regular wages. If an employee is unable to work due to your decision to close the business, this will essentially be a layoff time. Unless there is a clause in the contract that allows for an unpaid layoff or the employees consent to being let go without pay, you should give your employees their regular salary. 

5. I have employees with children at schools and nurseries that are closed because of the severe weather. Do I have to give them time off when they have nowhere to put their children?

Employees are legally entitled to a fair amount of unpaid time off for dependents. The privilege is applicable when a worker needs to take time off work due to an unanticipated change in the care arrangements for a dependent. Where schools or nurseries close due to bad weather, the right to time off for dependents would obviously apply. When exercising this entitlement, an employee is required to notify you as quickly as possible of the absence’s cause and anticipated duration.

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