As I type this it is very cold outside but with bright sunshine and a clear blue sky for once! There have though already been one or two snow falls already in certain parts of the UK this winter and it is likely that there will be more to come if the last 3 years is anything to go by.

As such it is worth considering the implications from an employment law perspective. By way of a summary:-

  • Look at your contracts and employee handbook to see if the situation is specifically provided for.
  • If it is not, then our view is that employees are not entitled to be paid when they haven’t attended work (assuming they are not sick).
  • If employees wish to be paid for the time, then they should use any annual leave which they have outstanding from that leave year.
  • If they have no unused leave to take, then you can either take a strict view and refuse to pay, or you could come to an arrangement for the time to be made up later.
  • If that doesn’t work for your business, then if you provide more leave than the statutory minimum 28 days, you could allow those extra days to be used in advance.
  • Be aware that if you allow leave from the next year to be used and it eats into the statutory 28 days, then you may face a later claim for breach of the Working Time Regulations, which provide that 20 days’ paid leave must be allowed in the holiday year in which they fall and the extra 8 days should also be allowed in that year, although an agreement may provide for them to be carried forward into the next year (ie not backwards).
  • Schools and nurseries are likely to close if there is a significant amount of snow. If people have difficulty making it to work because of lack of childcare arrangements then they are entitled to take time off under the legislation dealing with Emergency Time Off for Dependents. Such time off is unpaid. They should not be treated detrimentally for doing this but, equally, the time allowed is only what is “reasonable and necessary”. Employees are meant to use the emergency time off to make other arrangements for their childcare rather than necessarily providing the childcare themselves.
  • Bear in mind that how reasonably you deal with these types of scenarios often has an impact on the “psychological contract” with your employees. There is a balance to be struck between not paying employees for a relatively short period and the longer term impact that that might have (eg recruitment costs, drop in productivity due to reduced motivation etc).

Employers may also want to consider having contingency plans in place such as allowing increased working from home on a short term basis or encouraging employees to consider alternative methods of transport to work.

Not only can commuting be more difficult over the winter months, employers should be mindful of the increased hazards in and around the workplace during the colder weather. With snow and ice on the ground, and employees travelling to and from work in the dark, the risk of trips, falls and other accidents increases.