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6th March 2018

Snow Days – Your Obligations As An Employer

With last week’s extreme weather, many employers will have needed to deal with the question of how to deal with absences resulting from the bad weather such as snow days. For some, absence from work will have been caused by travel disruption and blocked roads; for others school closures will have caused last minute problems with childcare.

It is important for employers to consider how to deal with these types of absences from an employment law perspective – for example whether the absence should be authorised and whether or not it should be paid. For some, an agreement may be reached whereby an employee can work from home. This will not be possible in all circumstances, however.

Aside from the above, the first point of call should be an employee’s contract of employment or a staff handbook containing a policy on adverse weather and travel disruption. If an employer has a policy in place, the same should be followed.
In the absence of a contractual provision or a policy within a handbook, the employer needs to consider a number of factors.

A provision of an employee’s contract of employment will usually be that they have to turn up to work at a specific time and location. If the employee fails to attend work, the absence may be considered unauthorised. However, if an employee follows the employer’s absence reporting procedure and the employer is satisfied that the reason for the absence is genuine (e.g. the employer cannot physically get into work due to the weather but has tried to do so), the absence will usually be authorised.

Even if the absence is authorised, this does not necessarily mean it will be paid. Generally speaking, if employees are off all day, the absence will usually be unpaid. Employees may be permitted to book annual leave instead, work the time lost on another day or reschedule the working day when this is possible.

Of course, employers could exercise their discretion to pay employees for such absence, however such discretion would have to be exercised fairly across the workforce.

Employers do, however need to exercise caution where the reason for an employee’s absence is a requirement for them to arrange care for a dependant such as a child where there is a school closure. Employees are entitled to emergency time off for dependants. The right is usually for unpaid leave (subject to any policy or contractual provision entitling them to paid leave) for a reasonable period (usually one or two days).

Some final points to note are: if employees can attend work but the employer is unable to provide work, generally speaking, unless there is a contractual right to put the employees on ‘lay off’ or short time, they should be paid. If employers need to close early, employees should be paid for the whole day and not be required to take unpaid leave/ annual leave. Employees should exercise caution in terms of their Health and Safety obligations in providing a safe workplace.

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