November 28, 2018
With winter descending and other factors such as strikes, remedial works and timetable revisions threatening to cause chaos for commuters, travel disruptions are inevitable. Employers need to understand their employees’ rights and have a strategy in place for minimising disruption. Here are the answers to some frequently asked questions:
Do you have to pay staff who are unable to get into work due to snow and difficult transport conditions?
Generally employees are obliged to attend work unless they are sick, on holiday or on maternity/parental leave etc. The onus is, therefore, on employees to come into work. Technically, this applies even in extreme weather conditions. Therefore, if the office is open and employees cannot make it into work because they are ‘snowed in’, one view is that you are entitled to treat their absence as unauthorised and are under no obligation to pay them.
However, if an employee’s normal mode of transport is out of action due to severe weather disruption, you may need to revise this view. Firstly, you should encourage employees to explore alternative means of transport. While alternative travel arrangements may be possible for some people, this may not be an option for employees who have a disability and employers need to be careful how they administer adverse weather policies in order not to risk discrimination issues.
Employees should not feel pressured to risk their safety to get into the office so it may be sensible to consider whether employees could usefully work from home until the weather situation has improved.
What if you are forced to close the office due to the severe weather conditions? Are staff entitled to be paid?
If you decide to temporarily close your business premises because of unforeseen circumstances, such as heavy snowfall, and there is no work available for your employees as a result, you cannot usually withhold pay. If you do so, your employees could bring unauthorised deduction from wages claims to recover the pay owed.
Can you require an employee who cannot get into the office to take a day’s holiday?
Unless the employee’s employment contract contains an express right for the employer to direct when their holiday is taken, employers cannot force employees to take a day’s holiday without their consent.
If schools are closed because of the severe weather, what are the implications for employers?
A parent of a child has the statutory right to take a reasonable amount of time off where it is necessary to deal with the unexpected disruption to childcare and are protected from suffering any detriment for taking the time off. However, employees should notify you as soon as reasonably possible and tell you how long you expect to be away from work.
Recommended follow-up steps:
Employers should have a clear adverse weather policy in place. Allowing employees to work from home or from an alternative workplace may help alleviate the misery for commuters.
As with dealing with most unexpected events, ensuring that contingency measures are in place can help to dramatically reduce their impact on the business as a whole.
- develop a strategy to improve business resilience to both minor and major disruptions;
- review company policies and procedures on major travel disruption and consider taking preventative measures for the services which will be most acutely impacted, for example assessing whether alternative means of working could be adopted;
- ensure that staff are familiar with the circumstances in which these policies apply; and
- ensure that the appropriate people in the business are aware of planned disruptions and provide staff with information as early as possible.