Neil Buck: Snow days – Do employers have to pay staff?

Pay/ No pay?

Given the current adverse weather conditions across the UK during this last week of Winter, many employers are being faced with the question of whether to pay or not to pay.

As usual, there is no single answer and there are different ways to tackle this.

There is no statutory right, only a contractual right to pay and as always you should refer to contracts of employment before taking any action. If an employee’s terms and conditions are silent on a particular point then you would revert to the general consensus that if the employee attends work then you should pay them, if they do not attend work then you do not need to pay them.

If there is no contractual right to pay this will obviously cause some friction with employees who blame the weather for them not getting to work thus not getting paid.

Many employers are still paying employees at full pay when absent through the inability to get to work through snow. This clearly disadvantages the employer.

One alternative solution is to state that they won’t be getting paid but allow the individual to take the time off as holiday. By doing this, the employees will have less holidays to take during the busy periods meaning a better attendance and also higher productivity. Be warned though, when requiring employees to take holiday you do need to provide appropriate notice which is defined as twice as many days as the duration of the leave. However, when faced with the option of no pay or taking holiday days, many employees will often agree to take the time off as holiday.

What about parents absent providing emergency childcare?

Another impact of the snow has been the closure of schools (it’s happened today with my own daughter – she’s ecstatic!). Many parents may be absent from work to provide childcare. In this scenario employees are entitled to emergency time off to look after their dependents.

However, there is no statutory right to pay for this period. This would have to be a contractual right. You should refer to what your contract of employment says. However, many employers choose to make payment in these circumstances, despite not being legally obliged to do so. As employers you can come to some other arrangement such as time off in lieu of overtime or holidays as in the scenario above.

What if the company has no work due to the weather?

If all of your employees make it to work but you have no work for them due to the weather, construction as a prime example, then you should pay them. When an employer closes due to weather they are actually laying employees off temporarily and employees will have the right to full pay.

Again, the employer can be disadvantaged in this case but there is a simple remedy as there are contractual terms that can be introduced which can assist employers facing such a situation.

The right to temporarily lay off employees or instigate short time working at low pay can be built into contracts of employment. By having these tools in place, an employer can minimise the amount it will have to pay in these difficult times.

Lessons for the future?

Many employers may get caught out by the length and severity of the recent snowfall, so the following may help in the future:

  1. Try and allow employees to work from home in such situations where possible. This can be through improved use of advancing technology and allowing employees to use their pc’s to work from home. Or simply planning ahead and ensuring employees actually take work home when there is the possibility that they may not be able to get to the office.
  2. Review your contracts of employment. Many companies still do not have contracts in place at all amazingly or simply haven’t covered the eventuality of sustained absence from work through poor weather conditions. Companies who have in place clear and concise terms & conditions of employment in a contract or handbook can effectively manage these troublesome periods with minimal damage to their business.