Employers need to mend the roof before the storms

With the threat of harsh weather on the heels of Christmas, as in previous hard winters, UK business is likely to lose millions of working hours due to employees not turning in for work.

But despite many businesses suffering drastic cuts in output by staff absence, or where outlets are forced to close due to lack of staff, too many employers get caught out each year by the bad weather and don’t tackle employment contracts when the sun is shining.

As employees are not legally entitled to receive payment if not at work, they are not entitled to be paid if they do not get to work due to travel disruption. But having clear adverse weather and journey into work policies in place can help avoid confusion and disagreements with staff, by setting out the steps that employees should take to get to work and what will happen if they are late or do not attend.

For example, the contract might say that the employee’s enforced absence will be treated as unpaid time off work. This would have to be clearly set out in the contract of employment to avoid being treated as an unauthorised deduction of pay. The absence could be treated as holiday, but again, this has to be agreed in the contract because employers can’t force employees to take holiday at a certain time without notice. Or, the contract might say that the absence will be paid, but the employee must make up the time later.

But if it’s the employers who close their business premises at short notice, they cannot usually withhold pay.

Where schools are shut, employees can ask for unpaid time off to look after dependants and how this works in practice, for example by being taken as holiday, should be covered by the employment contract.

Staff manuals can play a part too, encouraging employees to consider alternative ways of getting to work, or, if there are none, it should encourage employees to work from home where this is possible. It should also remind employees of the terms of the employment contract.

Said Mark Cornish, employment expert with Grant Saw Solicitors: “The important thing is to have a policy in place, make sure everyone knows and understands what it covers, and then make sure that it is applied fairly and consistently. It’s no good having a clear policy for all employees and then giving one employee a sympathetic nod, but penalising another.”

He added: “It’s also important that too much pressure isn’t put on employees to risk their safety to get to work. And it’s always worth remembering that making a payment where people were genuinely unable to get to work, may be a bigger boost to business once the snow has cleared.”

This is not legal advice; it is intended to provide information of general interest about current legal issues.