Snow days - cold, chaos and careful considerations

For employers, snow can present a plethora of legal issues, compounded by balancing work production levels and staff morale.
 
Dec132016 engagement

As we head towards the festive season, the weather is inevitably becoming colder and people might wonder about the possibility of snow. For employers, snow can present a plethora of legal issues, compounded by balancing work production levels and staff morale.

Employees are usually obliged to come into work unless sick, on holiday or taking other leave such as maternity or shared parental leave. If the office remains open during ‘snow days’ employees should make every reasonable effort to go to work. If they fail to attend employers could argue that their absence is unauthorised and a breach of contract.

When is it acceptable to make deductions from employees’ wages?

Under the Employment Rights Act 1996, employees have a statutory right not to suffer an unlawful deduction from wages. But where an employee refuses to work or is unable to perform all of their duties, they could lose their entitlement to part of their wages.

Employers might scratch their heads at how to ensure deductions are lawful. Firstly, there must be an express clause in the employee’s employment contract that allows the employer to make a deduction in those circumstances. Secondly, employers will need to look carefully at the amount of snow days during which employees refuse to work to assess the amount to deduct from wages.

If employers make excessive deductions, they could be exposed to claims for unlawful deductions from wages or breach of contract. If deductions cause an employee’s pay to fall below the national minimum wage, the employer could also be exposed to claims under the national minimum wage legislation.

Other solutions

Employers may consider deducting wages a hard line to take, potentially impacting staff morale.

There are other solutions:

If an employee is unable to make it into work due to transport disruption, employers could encourage other means of transport as long as they do not risk their health and wellbeing. Working from home on snow days is a feasible solution as employees can increasingly access email and other office applications off site. Employers should support employees with resources such as company mobile phones or laptops. Employers may agree with their employees that they will take snow days as part of their annual leave entitlement. Some employees may welcome this opportunity to spend time in the snow.

However, there are other types of leave that employers need to consider.

Unpaid and other leave

Employees with children or dependent relatives may be entitled to take time off work on a snow day. For example, if a school is closed at very short notice and an employee cannot make alternative care arrangements, they will have a statutory right to take time off.

Strictly speaking, the leave will be unpaid, but employers may decide to offer a goodwill payment to employees to maintain a good working relationship. It is up to each employer to determine how ‘frosty’ they may be in this respect.

Final thoughts

Employers may find it useful to have an action plan or policy in place to set out what will happen in the event of a snow day. The REC does not have model documents because these will be specific to each business. If REC Corporate Members wish to put an action plan or policy in place, the REC Legal Business Partners may be able to help draft those documents.

This entry was posted on Tuesday, December 13th, 2016 by:

Ryan HuggettRyan Huggett

Ryan Huggett is a Legal Advisor at the REC.