Snow Days And HR Regulations: Keeping Employees Safe

Whether you refer to the weather issue as "the beast from the East" or "Storm Emma", there is no denying that companies across the country have been dealing with the fallout of challenging weather. There will be countries all over the world that laugh at how the UK has reacted to the snowfall. In many parts of the world, this weather represents a standard working day but in the United Kingdom, we’ve seen the military called out to rescue people and assist people in moving from A to B.

No matter what industry or sector you operate in, it is likely that you will have been impacted by the weather in some way. Even if you haven’t been affected with respect to distribution or the services you are able to offer, it is likely that your employees have endured difficulties in getting to and from work. This creates an issue for Human Resources departments and it is likely that there will be a level of debate about what the company should do.

Employees must know their rights in challenging weather conditions

Many employees may not be pleased to hear the following comment, but an employer has no obligation to pay their employee if they fail to turn up for work. It is important to be aware that an employer cannot force employees to attend work in challenging weather conditions, but they don’t have to pay employees who don’t attend.

Even if the employee has been unable to attend work due to the weather or a lack of public transport, there is nothing which states that the employer is responsible for paying a wage for that day. The same line of thinking can be applied to employees who arrived late or had to leave early, missing out on expected hours.

Understandably, not everyone agrees with this stance. Social media has been ablaze with comments citing the red and amber warnings issues with respect to the weather and how this should provide justification for employees not travelling. There is an argument to be made that this could be an issue that is discussed in the future but at the end of February and beginning of March 2018, it is not a legal requirement for employers to consider.

Now, many employers have taken the decision to close their premises and inform employees that they will receive payment as normal, even though no work has taken place. This is a decision for individual firms to make, and it may be a decision based on goodwill and maintaining staff morale as opposed to be a reasoned business decision.

Childcare is always a factor when travel is compromised

There is an awful lot of excitement surrounding snow days but with schools and nurseries being closed, many employees are placed into a position where they need to arrange alternative childcare at short notice. This can be difficult and an employer that shows flexibility in this situation should find that their employees respect them for the decision. However, there are no statutory rights for employees to receive payment if they require an emergency day relating to childcare. Individual firms’ may have provisions in employee contracts, but this is for every firm to consider as opposed to being a universal situation.

There will be firms who make allowances for time to be made up or to arrange a holiday day at short notice, but there is no legal requirement for employees to cater for the childcare needs of their employees.

Some companies will have considered asking, or even forcing, employees to take a holiday day for the dates that they are unable to come into work. However, for this to be enforced, the employer must provide notice that is twice the length of time that the holiday will run for. The following examples outline what a company must follow in forcing employees to take a holiday:

  • For one day holiday, two days' notice must be given
  • For two days holiday, four days' notice must be given
  • For five days holiday, ten days' notice must be given

While the expectations surrounding forcing employees to take holiday leave are clearly defined, there is room for discussion on the required period of notice when an employee receives more than the statutory minimum holiday period, 28 days.

It is not always possible to be proactive when dealing with weather conditions

Although there were many predictions detailing the extend of the harsh weather that many have endured, most companies adopted a “wait and see” approach to the conditions, reacting to snowfall as opposed to pre-empting the conditions. In this situation, not enough time would be available to enforce holiday periods on to employees.

Given the severity of weather in the past week, and the impact on employment, it is likely that many companies will want to clarify their regulations relating to travel and employment in difficult weather conditions. Hopefully spring will bring better weather and it could provide the platform for organisations to review their practices to ensure they are better equipped to deal with snow days in the future.

Any organisation looking to review their HR practices and conditions should consult a specialist. At Davenport HR, we offer a range of solutions and services to help your company fully comply with regulations while providing a duty of care to employees.