This week the UK has been subject to an exceptionally cold snap, with many parts of the country experiencing snow. The cold conditions are set to continue for the remainder of the working week, with a risk of potential travel disruption. Employees may find that they are unable to get to work due to the severe weather conditions, so where do employers’ and employees’ stand in this situation?
No automatic right to get paid for travel delays or time off
Unless an employee’s travels are considered to be part of their ‘working time’, there is no statutory obligation for an employer to pay an employee for travel delays. Similarly, there is no statutory obligation for an employer to pay an employee where the employee is unable to attend work due to adverse weather conditions. However, employers may have alternative contractual arrangements in place, so contracts of employment and staff handbooks should always be carefully considered.
Some employers recognise that adverse weather conditions and associated travel disruption do not occur regularly in the UK, and thus offer a degree of flexibility in respect of payment for travel delays or non-attendance at work. It may be that such an employer is deemed to have established a custom of paying employees in such situations, and they therefore ought to be cautious when seeking to amend the status quo. It is important that all employees are treated consistently in order to avoid discrimination claims.
If an employee has a child whose school or nursery is closed or normal childcare arrangements are disrupted, then the employee may potentially have the right to reasonable unpaid time off to look after the child. However, this right only applies in emergency situations when it is not possible to make alternative arrangements.
Some employers may be willing to adopt a flexible approach to matters such as working hours, working from home and/or annual leave where adverse weather conditions are concerned. Whatever approach is taken, it should be taken properly, fairly and consistently, thereby reducing the risk of complaints or potential claims.
If it is deemed appropriate to close the business due to adverse weather conditions, employers can request that employees take annual leave, provided that adequate notice has been provided.
Unless otherwise stated in an employee’s contract of employment, an employer cannot force an employee to take unpaid time off work. So, if an employee is willing and able to work then they have a right to do so. The employer could ask the employee to attend another workplace, to work from home, or to make up the time up at a later date, but cannot insist on this unless the employment contract specifically provides for it.
Health & Safety
Employers have a duty of care concerning the health and safety of their employees, so they should avoid putting undue pressure on employees to attend work if this could result in them taking unnecessary risks. If official advice is to stay at home unless travel is essential, employers should not be asking individuals to get into work come what may. There could be potential liability for the employer if an employee suffers injury after being pressurised into travelling in dangerous conditions. A balanced between encouraging employees to make all reasonable efforts to get to work and not requiring them to take undue risks with their safety must be struck.
Employees should ensure they are aware of how to get in touch with their employer in the event that they are unable to get into work or are going to be delayed.
Employers should consider implementing and/or updating a policy addressing such circumstances. If adverse weather conditions are forecast, then employers should consider sending an email to employees reminding them of any relevant policy and setting out expectations. Managers should all be singing from the same hymn sheet in respect of adverse weather arrangements, and employees should be reminded that taking time off without a genuine or legitimate reason could result in disciplinary proceedings.