Snow Day?

What employment law says about adverse weather and work

We’ve seen a good bit of snow this week in Elgin, Moray which for some can bring excitement but for others concern and anxiety, especially when it comes to getting to work. Luckily, for us at AM Employment Law, our office is in walking distance from where we live but for some, getting to the workplace can prove problematic. With travel disruption and school closures, it is important for both employers and employees to be clued up on the legal positions surrounding getting to work in bad weather.

Getting to work

The best practice is to have an adverse weather policy in place which is usually contained in the staff handbook. This makes it clear to both employees and employers what is then expected of them should there be an extreme weather situation.

Usually, if an employee cannot make it into the workplace, they will not receive pay. However, an employer may make discretionary arrangements depending on the circumstances. It may be that every attempt was made to make it to the workplace and the employee is still unable to get there. Therefore, the employer may feel it is fair to pay the employee in this type of situation. It is important to apply any discretionary payments as consistently as possible to avoid frictions amongst employees.

The exception to note here is if the employer provides travel to work and due to the weather cannot provide it; in this situation, the employee should be paid for the time off work. Another thing to possibly consider would be alternative working arrangements. For example, allowing employees to work from home if possible or allow flexibility with start and finish times to avoid the worst of the weather or prepare for weather warnings as they come into place.

Temperatures

An employer has a duty to provide a reasonable temperature at work but despite common workplace rumours, there is no legal minimum temperature for the work environment. The Health and Safety Executive provides a recommended minimum temperature of 16C for office type jobs and 13C for high effort jobs/environments. ACAS provides additional guidelines where temperatures may be low such as allowing warmer clothing, extra breaks for hot drinks and the option to bring in additional heating where applicable. Also, employers should be aware of vulnerable staff such as someone who is pregnant or someone who suffers with a disability that may be made worse by a colder environment, for example, arthritis.

School closures

If an employee cannot attend work because their child’s school has been closed due to the weather, then they are legally entitled to unpaid time off to deal with dependants. It is common to treat any last minute school closures as an emergency. Again, it is a good idea to have in place and be aware of any policy covering the rules for this type of situation. Whether this time would be paid or unpaid would depend on what is in the policy or it would be discretionary for the employer to decide. However, it is worth employers remembering again that it is best to keep discretionary payments as fair and consistent as possible.

Sickness

Along with the colder weather can come higher levels of sickness absence. A sickness absence policy will ensure staff are treated equally and employers can keep on top of absence levels. A policy may contain specific trigger points for how many days or episodes of absence have been taken before engaging formal sickness management procedures.

Advice

Our best advice to employers is to have policies in place for adverse weather, time off for dependants and sickness absence. For employees, be aware of what these policies say and where there are. We can help employers with the drafting of these policies, contracts and handbooks. Having these policies in place would ensure minimal confusion and disruption and also consistency.

If you require any assistance regarding anything that is in this article, on contracts or handbooks or any other employment law matter, please do not hesitate to get in touch with us at adelle@am-employment-law.co.uk.