Cold Weather Conundrum – What are workers’ rights in adverse weather

Posted on Friday February 1, 2019

Donna Martin

With the focus once again on the bad weather affecting the UK and the disruption that it creates for commuters and their employers, now is the perfect time to consider what a person’s working rights are during adverse weather.

While much of the north of England has borne the brunt of the recent wintery conditions, areas of the south are also beginning to get their fair share of snow and ice.

Unable to make it into work

It is the responsibility of the employee to make it into work, there is no legal right that forces employers to provide a wage to staff who are unable to make it into work due to issues with transportation or childcare, and as such any day missed could be classed as an unauthorised absence.

Some employers may offer alternative arrangements, such as working from home, but they are not bound by any legal right to do so.

Where an employee is disabled, however, employers should consider whether their behaviour could be treated as discriminatory.

For employers, it pays to include provision for adverse weather within your employment policy. This should clearly state what the expectations of each employee are and how they should go about reporting the fact that they are unable to attend work.

Case-by-case basis

Employers may wish to consider staff absence on a case by case basis, depending on the obstacles that prevent a person from attending work.

If you have two employees coming from the same area, and one makes it in and the other doesn’t then this may raise questions that are worth dealing with at a later date.

A recent study suggests that only eight per cent of the UK’s working population would use adverse weather as an excuse for not coming in, so you should assess the feasibility of a journey.

Childcare

A significant issue in snowy weather might be the closure of schools that prevent staff from coming into work or force them to be late.

A parent of a child has the right to take a reasonable amount of time off where it is necessary to deal with the unexpected disruption, termination or breakdown of arrangements for the care of a child however, there is no right to receive full pay.

Employees are, however, protected from suffering any detriment for taking the time off and should not be penalised beyond the loss of pay.

Closing an office or place of work

Should an employer be forced to close a business or place of work due to poor weather conditions employees are entitled to be paid. Where an employer makes a deduction from pay, they may have a claim for unauthorised deduction of wages and/or breach of contract brought against them.

Holiday

To avoid missing out on pay, some employees may ask to have their time off logged as holiday, should the employee have paid holiday allowance available. In these circumstances, it is down to each employer whether they grant time off as paid holiday.

Health and Safety

The Approved Code of Practice recommends that the minimum temperature in a workplace should normally be at least 16 degrees Celsius.

If the work involves rigorous physical effort, the temperature should be at least 13 degrees Celsius. However, these are not legally enforceable and the employer has a duty to determine what reasonable comfort will be in particular circumstances.

Where conditions make a place of work icy or increase the risk of slips and trips, employers should conduct a risk assessment, as the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 requires this.

Preparing for future cold snaps

Where given prior warning of adverse weather employees should consider or make alternative arrangements for their travel and childcare, where practicable.

Meanwhile, employers should consider incorporating a specific adverse weather policy into their contracts and explore other options that may allow employees to work from home or an alternative workplace.

If you are still unsure of your rights as an employer or an employee during periods of adverse weather, please contact Donna Martin, Head of Employment and Immigration at Mackrell Turner Garrett.