Snow disruption – what happens if employees cannot get into work?

With snow and ice causing travel disruption across the UK, many employees may be prevented from getting to work due to road closures and public transport delays or cancellations.

Employers should be prepared to deal with major travel disruptions and consider the following:

1)      Employees with children

Employees have a right to take a “reasonable” amount of time off because of the unexpected disruption for a dependent’s care arrangements. If a school or nursery is closed and an employee has to take a day off to look after their children, an employer cannot force the employee to use up their paid annual leave entitlement to do so.

Whilst an employee has no statutory right to be paid for such time off, many employers have a dependent care leave policy allowing the employee to be paid in these circumstances.

2)      Employee pay

Employers should check whether their employees have a contractual right to be paid if they cannot get to work due to travel disruptions which are out of their control. However, there is often no obvious express term and no common custom or practice, and employers should be careful not to unlawfully deduct from employees’ wages.

Even if there are no express contract terms, employers should consider whether there would be practical benefits in paying their employees even if they cannot come into work. Docking pay can damage employee morale, generate bad publicity for the business, and employees may be tempted to falsely call in sick, causing a breakdown in trust between the employer and employee.

3)      Possible alternatives:

Instead of forcing employees to come into work if they are stranded, employers should consider the following options:

  • Flexible working options, such as working from home or from another location;

  • Offer employees the opportunity to take the absence as paid annual leave, assuming they have sufficient entitlement remaining;

  • If employees are unwilling to take paid annual leave, consider whether employees could make up their lost hours on other days; and/or

  • If the workplace cannot be run safely, consider closing it and sending employees home.