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Severe Weather Raises Employee Questions

Severe Weather Raises Employee Questions

The recent severe weather conditions in Scotland has raised some interesting questions about dealing with staff who are unable to get to work.

A crucial question is whether, in circumstances where a member of staff does not attend work, they are entitled to be paid. This will, in the first instance, depend on the terms of their contract of employment.  The contract should be checked to identify any provisions that might apply.  In the absence of any contractual position, there is no legal obligation for hourly staff to be paid for hours not worked when they fail to report to work because of the weather.  That said, many employers may decide to compromise and ask employees to make up the hours on a different day. 

Although employees do not have a legal entitlement to be paid for hours not worked, employers may also decide to exercise their discretion and pay the employee regardless of whether they make it into work or not.  This will be a case of balancing staff morale and good will against the cost to the business as a matter of employment policy.  Salaried employees are not paid “by the hour” and would generally still need to be paid as normal, unless the contract of employment specifically mentions withholding sums from an employee who fails to report to work when the workplace is open for business.  In practice, it is now common for salaried employees to be asked to make up the hours at a later time, take them as unpaid leave or take them as holidays.

For employees who have to take time off work when their child’s school or nursery is closed because of the poor weather, there is a statutory right to unpaid time off to care for dependents.  The entitlement is the right to take a “reasonable” amount of unpaid time off work to take “necessary” action to deal with particular situations affecting their dependants.  The spirit of the law is to provide for time off to deal with family emergencies.  If schools or nurseries close due to the weather conditions, employees should be seeking alternative childcare arrangements.  Employers are within their right to reduce pay accordingly for hours not worked. It may also be more practical for employees to take emergency holidays to cover any time off.

In extreme cases, employers could find that because of the adverse weather conditions, it may be appropriate to send employees home.  Ideally, employers should contact their staff before they start their shift to advise them that they do not need to come in.  Again, the basic position is that employers do not need to pay employees for work which they do not do.  However, as a matter of good employment policy, paying employees may be something the employer chooses to do.  Any decision taken with regard to pay should be applied fairly and consistently. 

It is also important to note that the minimum temperature for working conditions is 16 degrees Celsius.  Employees should therefore not be at work when their work environment is below this temperature.

Working from home is a useful and helpful way to tackle disruption caused by the weather. Employees must still be expected to work and it is up to the employer to ensure productivity is maintained.  Employees working from home must be paid in the usual way.

Each employer will approach these issues differently depending on their own policies and culture. They may also need to bear in mind that over the last few years extreme weather has become a regular occurrence and so consistency of approach is essential.

David Morgan

This blog was published in The Herald on Monday 15 December 2014. To read the full article click here.