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News - 19 January 2013

More snow coming; staff staying at home. Where does that leave employers?

With the Met Office forecasting “significant” snowfall over much of the UK over the next few days, it looks likely that businesses will be disrupted. How can you prepare for it and what can you do if your staff don’t turn up for work?

Businesses will be affected in different ways. This could be depending on the amount of snow, their location, where their workforce lives, whether their workforce has caring responsibilities, and the work they do.

No two employers will face exactly the same situation but some commonly asked questions include:

If my staff are unable to get themselves into work, do I still have to pay them?

No. If your employees are unable to get themselves into work but you remain open for business then you are not legally obliged to pay them.

You might want to consider alternatives, such as temporary home working or asking staff to take part of their paid holiday entitlement. For further information, see below.

Can I take disciplinary action if staff fail to show up for work?

You should normally count such absence as “authorised absence”, if the employee has ‘phoned in to tell you that he or she is unable to attend work, and so disciplinary action would not be appropriate.

But if most staff make it in – can I take action against those who don’t?

You should bear in mind that different employees may have different circumstances – perhaps a long commute or because they live in a particularly snowbound area. For this reason it is impossible to make a general rule about taking disciplinary action against those who do not get into work just because some employees do make it into work.

Disciplinary action would only be appropriate if you have good reason – and evidence - to make you believe the employee is being untruthful about the snow being the reason for not attending work, or to reinforce the message that employees must notify you of their absence if they have not done so.

My business is open, and employees can get into work, but I have a member of staff who cannot come in because he has to look after his children as the school is closed. What should I do?

Under the law, all employees have the right to unpaid time off for dependants, and this would clearly apply in this situation. It would also apply where a member of staff has to take time off to assist an elderly relative, for example.

The amount of time off is not fixed, but it should be no longer than what is required to deal with the immediate emergency – normally one or two days would be appropriate. However, because all employees will have different circumstances, the amount of time off required by one employee will be different from that required by another employee.

Where the weather causes extended school closures, there is no definite rule that says parents have the “right” to time off work to look after children. Some will find it easier than others to make other arrangements - perhaps by using relatives to look after their children. In dealing with such situations, employers must act reasonably, and it is unlikely to be sensible to pursue disciplinary action in cases where an employee’s absence is caused by a school closure.

Can I make staff take holidays from their annual holiday entitlement if they don’t turn up for work?

By law, you can only impose holidays on staff without giving them twice as much notice as the amount of holiday you want them to take, unless you have a condition in employees’ contracts of employment allowing you to do so with less notice. This will normally rule out imposing holidays on staff because of sudden snowfall.

On the other hand, if employees ask to take a day’s holiday on a day they are snowbound, there is nothing to stop you agreeing to this – as long as the employee has sufficient holiday entitlement left in the current holiday year. Make sure you record the time off correctly as holiday and that the member of staff concerned is clear about what is happening.

If my business has to close temporarily because of the snow, do I still have to pay my staff?

In general, yes you do have to pay them. This should be at their normal rate of pay.

In some cases, employees can be “laid off” without normal pay if there is a specific term in their contract allowing the employer to do this. This sort of clause is widespread in some industries, but virtually unheard of in others.

When employees are laid off in this way, they are entitled to a statutory payment from the employer called a Guarantee Payment. The current rate is a maximum of £21.20 per day. Payment is limited to a maximum of five days in any period of three months. An employee must have completed one month's continuous employment in order to qualify for a Guarantee Payment.

On days on which a Guarantee Payment is not payable, employees may be able to claim Jobseekers’ Allowance and employees should contact their local Jobcentre to see if they qualify.

Due to the weather and traffic disruption my business is unlikely to be busy and I don’t need my staff working full time - is there anything I can do?

For most employers, if the employees report for work, there is little you can do. It might be possible to agree that the employees take some holiday, but employers cannot insist on this unless the employee’s contract provides for this to happen.

In some cases, an employer might be able to impose “short-time working” (a temporary reduction of working hours) but only provided there is a specific contractual right to do this. This might be contained in an agreement with a trade union representing the workers, or in their contracts of employment (see above).

Can I ask staff to work from home in bad weather?

Working from home is much more common than it was even a few years ago, thanks to communications technology, and some employers have staff who are permanently home-based. However, the issues are more complex with staff who normally work at the employer’s premises – and, of course, not all jobs are suitable for home-working.

In the very short term, to deal with unusual extreme circumstances, it is likely to be reasonable to ask staff who can do some work from home to do so. This might apply if they have a laptop computer or telephone and are able to get some work done away from the office. Equally, if it is the employee who asks to work from home for a few days, this might be a reasonable request if it suits you, the employer, as well. In this way, employees would avoid losing pay for days they cannot get in to work.

However, employees who don’t work regularly from home are unlikely to have the infrastructure available to allow them to work properly or safely – such things as internet connections, desk space, and material to work on.

Employers also need to consider the health, safety and security implications of having staff working at home, as well as supervision arrangements. Again, what is reasonable in the short term might not be appropriate for a longer-term arrangement.

In the long term, where the nature of the work allows it, you might consider reviewing working arrangements with your staff to allow for permanent or occasional home working – this might benefit both the employee (greater flexibility and less time and expense commuting) and you (saving office costs and allowing for business to continue in severe weather conditions).

Information for this story was provided by NatWest Mentor which provides over 14,500 UK businesses with advice, guidance and protection in the fields of Employment Law, Health & Safety, Environment and Tax. To find out more about how Mentor could benefit your business call 0800 634 7002 or e-mail or visit the Mentor website at

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