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Handling employee absences due to bad weather

Storms, frost & snow will bring with them the usual travel problems - employees may find it harder to get to work & staff absences will increase. With this in mind, employers need to start planning now for what to do when bad weather strikes.

This could mean changing working patterns, allowing staff to work from home or requesting staff to work at another location. However, there are times when – for whatever reason – the weather makes travel of whatever kind impossible, and your employees may have the kind of job that won’t allow for remote working.

Can we deduct pay if staff can’t work?

You don’t normally have to pay an employee if they can’t get to work, or they are late for work because of bad weather. However, you would have to pay an employee if:

  • the employment contract or a collective agreement says employees get paid in these circumstances, or

  • it has become custom and practice that employees get paid in these circumstances.

Employees and workers who were ready, available and willing to work will be entitled to their normal pay if:

  • the place of business is fully or partly closed because of the weather;

  • hours are reduced because of the weather;

  • other essential staff, such as line managers, are unable to get into work;

  • staff who provide access to the building are unable to get into work;

  • employer-provided transport on which they rely to get to work can’t run.

For the last point, you might pay staff on a discretionary basis for travel disruption. However, if you do this, you need to remember that by doing so, you set a precedent for the future.

Some contracts may allow employers to 'lay off' some staff without pay but it must be completely clear when this would apply. Anyone with employee status will usually have a right to a statutory guarantee payment.

Vulnerable workers

You need to take extra care for vulnerable workers, such as pregnant workers or those with chronic long-term medical conditions which may be affected by cold weather.

If a risk cannot be avoided or removed, an employee may have to be sent home to protect their health. If this happens, the employee would normally get paid in full, as was the case during the COVID pandemic.

Employees with childcare issues

If an employee can’t get into work because of childcare issues, including their child's school being closed, they should tell their employer as soon as possible.

There is no automatic legal right for an employee to be paid for any time they’ve missed because of childcare issues. However, in an emergency they have the right to unpaid time off, although contracts of employment, collective agreements, or custom and practice in your workplace may say otherwise.

Unpaid leave

You might allow an employee unpaid time off in bad weather conditions where:

  • their child’s school is closed and the child can’t be left at home alone;

  • they are the carer for a relative and that relative has an emergency;

  • a partner or child is seriously injured, or is stranded as a result of bad weather and the employee has to help them.

However, you’ll need to check contracts or policies on this issue because they may say otherwise.

How to reduce staff absences

Just a few simple actions on your part could make a big difference to staff working in bad weather and reduce the risk of staff absences. It’s worth trying the following:

· Relax the dress code so staff can wear warmer clothing.

· Allow extra breaks to make hot drinks.

· Bring in portable heaters to make the workplace more comfortable.

· Where roads are snowy or icy, allow staff more time to get to work and let them leave early without this affecting their pay.