Snow Days and your Legal Obligations

After the chaos caused by last year’s ‘Beast from the East’, and the country’s ability to grind to an almost complete halt at the first hint of snow, many of you will have probably familiarised yourselves with an employer’s legal obligations in the event of adverse weather.

With potential snow forecast in coming weeks, we figured it would be a good time to provide you with a quick reminder of the answers to some frequently asked questions about snow.

The overview below concerns your legal obligations. In many cases, you may wish to make a business decision (for example, regarding pay on a snow day). Remember to have a clear policy, and apply it fairly to all employees.

1. Does an employer have to pay an employee if they are unable to get to work?

This depends on what is written in the contract of employment, but in most cases, employers do not need to pay an employee if the employee is unable to get to work due to bad weather.

A particular (and rare) exception to this is when an employer normally provides travel to work.

2. Does an employer have to pay employees if the workplace is closed due to bad weather?

Yes, as an employer, you need to pay employees when the workplace has been closed owing to the weather.

Employers can ask employees to work from home, or go to another place of work, if they have one and it is reasonable for the employees to get there as an alternative.

3. Can an employer force an employee to take a day as holiday?

It is possible to ask employees to take a day as holiday, but only with sufficient warning. Employment law states you must give employees notice of ‘at least’ double the length of annual leave you are asking them to take.

Unfortunately, in these instances, it is quite rare that an employer will have sufficient warning that weather conditions are going to be sufficiently bad, so it is something of a moot point.

4. Schools are shut, so many employees have had to take time off to care for children. What is protocol?

All employees are entitled to take unpaid leave to deal with emergency situations for their children or dependents. A school being shut at short notice is an example of such an emergency situation.

5. Does an employer have to send employees home if the workplace is too cold?

The temperature in an indoor workplace is covered by the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992, which place a legal obligation on employers to provide a 'reasonable' temperature in the workplace.

The law does not give a minimum temperature that is considered ‘reasonable’, however the temperature in workrooms ‘should normally be at least 16 degrees Celsius, or 13 degrees Celsius if a lot of the work is physical. Although, these temperatures are not a legal requirement; the employer has a duty to determine what reasonable comfort will be in the particular circumstances. The reasonable level will depend on the nature of the workplace such as a bakery, an office, or a warehouse.’

Take a look at the guidelines on the ACAS website here.

Kate Fretten, Employment Partner says “Your first port of call on any employment issues arising from bad weather should be your employee handbook and contracts of employment. If you are expecting inclement weather, take a moment to familiarise yourself with your procedures.

If you are going to make a business decision that is not consistent with your handbook or contracts, apply it fairly and evenly to all employees and explain to them the decision you have made and the reasons for it. If you are not sure about anything, I am always happy to provide advice or guidance.”

 

At Frettens, all of our solicitors offer a free initial meeting or chat on the phone to answer your questions. If this article raises issues for you or your business, please call us on 01202 499255 Kate or Paul will be happy to discuss it with you.