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Do I Have to go to Work in Severe Weather Conditions?

By Solicitor, Employment

Severe weather such as heavy snow can bring widespread disruption as many employees struggle to get to work and schools shut down.    

However, being snowed in at home may mean you get the day off work but what many people don’t realise is it often means that you won’t get paid.

The same applies if you have issues with childcare arrangements like your children’s school closing and you can’t arrange alternative childcare at short notice.

Here are our top tips about where you stand and what to do if you get snowed in.

What if I can’t get to work as a result of severe weather like heavy snow?

If you are due to attend work and cannot because of the snow, you should let your line manager know as soon as possible. Depending on your working relationship, an email or a text may suffice but it’s often best to phone as a courtesy and to make sure they’ve got your message.

Your employer should not pressure you to attempt to travel to work in dangerous conditions, in the same way that they should not put you in any other situation at work which is unsafe.

In the worst case scenario, if you fail to notify your employer you could be accused of failing to comply with your contract of employment and face disciplinary action.

Where can I find out about my company's policy?

Employees are not normally entitled to pay in this situation, but always check your employment contract and staff handbook as your employer may have a different policy. Some may have it written into staff contracts or have a collective agreement in place that they will pay you if you cannot get to work due to circumstances beyond your control. If this is the case and you aren’t paid, you may have a potential claim for any unpaid salary.

If your contract doesn’t provide for payment of your salary, speak to your line manager and see if you can come up with an alternative arrangement that you’re both happy with. For example, they may agree to you working from home that day or making up the lost hours at a future point.

If you are a contractor, you should refer to your contractor’s agreement which is likely to say that you need to inform your client if you are unable to provide services to them. You may also wish to consider sending another person, firm or company as a substitute for you.  

What if my workplace is closed?

If your workplace is closed and you are unable to work from another workplace or from home then you are entitled to be paid unless your contract states otherwise. Your employer also cannot make you take it as annual leave without giving proper notice, although it’s worth checking what it says about this in your contract and/or staff handbook.

Some employers will have a policy which provides for unpaid layoffs in certain situations and in this case you may be entitled to a small, statutory payment.

What if I have issues with childcare as a result of severe weather?

If you have a child or children and are unable to arrange for alternative childcare then you have a right to unpaid leave to look after them or other dependants in an emergency. If your child’s school is unexpectedly shut at short notice then this is likely to be classed as an emergency situation.

What is the legal position?

By law, employees or workers are not normally entitled to pay when they are not in work for reasons other than certain types of paid leave, although some companies are flexible on this so always check your contract of employment or company policy.

Regarding childcare, the Employment Rights Act 1996 states that all employees are entitled to take a reasonable amount of time off during working hours if there is an unexpected disruption or termination of arrangements for the care of a dependant.

Danielle Parsons is an employment lawyer at Slater and Gordon Lawyers in London.