It’s that time of the year again, with widespread disruption being caused across the country by the first snowfall of the year.

Heavy snow and other adverse weather can severely disrupt business continuity and the economy, preventing employees from getting to work as a result of road closures and delays on public transport. No employer wants to put the health and safety of its employees at risk, but dealing with employee absence can be extremely challenging.

During periods of adverse weather conditions, employers need to have clear positions on a number of issues including communications, flexible working, entitlement to wages and office closures. Adopting an “adverse weather” policy in advance can help avoid misunderstanding, but don’t panic if you are not in this position, as not all is lost.

Whether employees are entitled to be paid when they are unable to get to work depends on a number of factors.

The starting point is whether the employee has a contractual right to be paid even if they don’t actually do any work. Usually, this is unlikely, but complications can arise where home working is permitted and/or the employee seeks to take annual or parental leave. Withholding pay can amount to an unlawful deduction of wages, so employers need to be clear before they do this.

Often employees will appreciate being given the opportunity to use annual leave entitlement for weather-related absence, in which case they are entitled to pay. If an employer is forced to close a worksite, this is fairer for employees, who would have been prepared to travel in adverse conditions.

Remote working methods can also be used to enable people to avoid losing pay. This very much depends on the nature of the work and the facilities in place. Employers should be clear in advance if remote working is acceptable, to avoid the problems of employees expecting to be paid for work they have done.

Adverse weather can also mean school closures, which may leave some employees in the tricky position of having to arrange last minute childcare, which is not always possible. In emergency situations, ‘reasonable’ time off for dependents is permitted. Although the statutory right is unpaid leave only. Some employers are more generous than this so you should check your policy carefully before making an assumption.