SNOW DAYS OFF – PAID OR UNPAID?
The current extreme winter weather conditions continue to cause problems resulting in difficulties for people getting to and from work. In addition, if schools close, parents who cannot make alternative arrangements need to remain at home to look after their children.
So if an employee cannot attend work due to the wintry weather conditions, what is the situation?
With current technology some employees may be able to work from home. This is not a right the employee can action but it is open for discussion and agreement by the employer.
If this is not an option, the existing Contract of Employment, Employee Handbook or any Procedural/Policy manual may contain provisions that would apply in these circumstances.
In the absence of any contractual/established provision, the situation is as follows:
Unauthorised or Authorised?
An employee is usually required to attend work under their contract of employment on days and at times as agreed with the employer. If the employee fails to attend there is no absolute obligation on employers to pay employees for the absence and additionally the absence may be considered as unauthorised.
However, the absence can become authorised, especially when the employee complies with absence reporting procedures and the employer is satisfied that a legitimate reason for being absent exists.
In most cases when genuinely due to bad weather such absences would be authorised. It will though be dependent upon the circumstances, such as: where the employee lives in relation to the workplace; weather conditions for that area; transport links between the employee’s home and workplace and so on. Some employers may also wish to ascertain that the employee has made reasonable efforts to attend work.
Once satisfied, the employer may authorise the absence. But being ‘authorised’ does not answer the paid or unpaid question.
Paid or Unpaid?
If employees are off all day then the answer will usually be ‘unpaid’. Options might then include:
Where working days are variable, reschedule the working day,
Allow booking of annual leave with pay to cover the lost day,
Employee puts in make-up time i.e. work back the time lost.
Staff who are late in would normally be treated in the same way as lateness for any other reason. This is the ‘default’ position. Employers can then decide if they want to apply other measures e.g. such lates may not be part of reliability control, may be paid, may not disqualify employee from attendance bonus etc.
Dependent Leave Issues
If an employee could physically get to work in the weather conditions, (for example they live within a short walking distance from the workplace) but are unable to work because they need to look after their children due to school closure), the employee could apply for Dependent’s Leave. This provides a parent with unpaid time off from work to deal with a family emergency involving a dependent. The time off, is for the employee/parent to make child care arrangements not actually to provide the care themselves. However, it is recognised that making such arrangements at short notice takes time, so an employee could be granted Dependent Leave for a day or so.
Some Final Thoughts
There are other situations that employers might need to consider:
If employees can attend work, but the employer is not able to provide work due to the weather, (e.g. grass cutters unable to cut the grass due to snow coverage) the employer may be able to apply temporary “lay-off” or short time hours BUT they must have the contractual right to do so. In such circumstances specific legal advice on ‘lay-off’/short time working should be obtained;
If the employer decides to close early, due to the weather, they are actually depriving employees from working. In these circumstances, the rest of that day should be treated as paid leave of absence (and not part of the annual holiday entitlement);
Remember your Health and Safety obligations to ensure that you are providing a safe workplace; and
Make sure you show your appreciation to those who do make it into work, despite the weather conditions. Not just for getting in but for the fact they may have to do more work to cover for those that don’t. A little acknowledgement goes a long way.