Cloudy with a chance of absences: what to do when adverse weather prevents employees from getting to work

By Catherine Kerr, Partner and Head of Employment

After the recent chaos caused by Storms Ciara and Dennis, and with the likelihood of more storms on the horizon, it’s important to ensure that your employment policies are ‘weatherproof’; so your business can continue with maximum productivity and minimum disruption, when adverse weather hits.

We answer some common questions employers have when the weather turns bad. 


1. Do I have to pay my employee if they fail to turn up to work?

The first thing to do is to highlight that if an employee does not turn up to work due to bad weather, the employer is not legally bound to pay them. This is because, contractually, employees are not fulfilling what is expected of them by their workplace. 


However, this matter is worth thinking about before making any decisions on whether or not to pay staff. Is it worth your employees taking unnecessary risks to make it into the office? How would the refusal to pay staff affect office morale? 


Looking at the bigger picture, it’s important to think about the impact that this could have on your staff, particularly given the fact that adverse weather is far out of their control. 


2. Is it fair for me to expect staff to work from home?

Flexi-working could be a valuable policy to implement in your working environment and should be considered in relation to adverse weather. Allowing employees to work from home (providing the job allows for this) if they are unable to make it into work helps your business to keep running in the most difficult circumstances. Having staff work from home, for many business owners, is preferential to losing a day of work altogether. 


What must be taken into consideration here, however, are the health and safety aspects of having people work from home unexpectedly – are their home environments appropriate for work?


If your company offers flexible working (including the option of working from home), this must be effectively communicated in your contracts so that staff know to anticipate the potential requirement of this, but also so that they have the opportunity to flag any concerns they may have around working at home. 


3. Can’t staff just take a day of annual leave if the weather is bad?

Often, taking a day of annual leave is preferable to having a day unpaid at home when you’re unable to make it into work due to bad weather. 


If you’re expecting your staff to take annual leave because they are unable to make it into work, you need to ensure you give minimum statutory notice when asking employees to take annual leave – this is usually a minimum of two days. 


Given that the weather can be unpredictable, providing people with this level of notice isn’t always straight forward; so once again it comes back to contracts. It may be worth implementing a policy whereby staff are expected to take annual leave if a scenario emerges which prevents them from coming into the office. 



4. Do I have to pay staff even if the office is closed?

If you opt to close your office when the weather prevents you from getting into work, this is counted as a period of lay-off. 

Once again, this all comes down to contracts – no surprise there! 

It must be stipulated within your employment terms and conditions that, should the business go into a lay-off period, whereby it is closed for an unknown period, this would result in unpaid time off for employees. 



If your understanding of employee contracts is a little cloudy, please feel free to get in touch with me via catherine.kerr@primaslaw.co.uk.

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