Kate Brooks

Partner, Solicitor & Head of Employment/HR Services

DATE PUBLISHED: 01 Mar 2018 LAST UPDATED: 19 Mar 2021

Is it a Snow Day and what impact does this have on employees and pay?

Waking up to a beautiful snowy Dorset makes most of us feel quietly excited. I get an excited feeling and remember back to my school days! School will be closed and we can play in the snow! Adult reality kicks in …. wait a minute … what about work, as a manager what about setting an example, as a mother what about the fact the school is closed?!

Are employees entitled to pay if they don’t go to work due to snow?

The starting point is that the onus is on the employee to be ready and willing to work. Even if the reason for absence is that the employee physically can not make it to work because of the snow, they are not entitled to be paid.

Employees have a right to take Emergency unpaid time off to deal with childcare emergencies e.g. school closures.

However, there can be exceptions:

  • You close the office or actively tell people not to come in – in this situation employees should be paid in full;
  • Written contractual right to pay – make sure that you consult your employees’ contracts and employment policy documents before deciding not to pay employees. If you have, for example, an “Adverse Weather and Travel
    Disruption” policy and this states that employees will be paid on snow days, then they should be. Also check emergency childcare policy – if the reason is a school closure, this will be an emergency childcare problem and your policy may be more generous than the law and provide for some paid time off;
  • Implied right to pay (unlikely in Dorset as snow is so rare) that you have set a precedent that you always pay on snow days, there may be an implied term in and employee’s contract, meaning you have to pay.

To pay or not to pay?

If you have established that there is no contractual right to pay and the office is open, you must balance up the following to decide whether to pay employees:

  • Health and safety responsibilities – you do not want employees to put themselves in danger by struggling into work in bad weather conditions in fear of no pay;
  • Morale – consider the morale of those who make it into work and those who cannot;
  • A policy stating full pay may be a disincentive for staff to come in, meaning your business cannot open;
  • Fear of setting a precedent when travel is disrupted for other reasons e.g. flight cancellation;
  • Emergency childcare – there is a right for employees to take unpaid time off to deal with childcare emergencies e.g. school closures. If an employer has established that they are not obliged to pay, then they have the option of whether they choose to do so nonetheless.

There is no right or wrong answer here for every business. A balance should be struck between giving employees the incentive to come to work by not paying them unless they do, and the possible upset to morale that refusing to pay may cause.

Can you compromise?

It is advisable not to have a blanket policy that states employees will be paid on snow days. I would suggest that you have a blanket policy stating that employees are expected to come to work unless it is unsafe to do so or they have a childcare emergency.

I would suggest dealing with snow days on a case by case basis and considering shorter working hours so that staff do not have to travel in rush hour and the dark; employees working remotely; and employees taking holiday if they are genuinely prevented from coming in. The most important thing is to communicate with staff and not treat people differently.

My view is that employers need to be really careful about trying to penny pinch for two reasons health and safety and morale. Health and safety: The reason for this is that last year things changed very quickly i.e. in a matter of hours the roads became
un-driveable and really dangerous. If you didn’t make the right call about closing or shutting, staff were stranded on their way home and the result of this was that the emergency services were overloaded! The knock on impact of this has to be worse than losing i.e. half a day’s work. In terms of morale, if it is clearly dangerous to be at work and you are being forced in you will
have zero respect for your workplace and also, the time that people spend at home on a snow day with family and friends is really good for well being which can only be a good thing in the long run!

Snow days used to be really rare but the topic does come up regularly now and employers need to have a strategy in place for how to make the decision on the morning. Genuine snow days are still rare but this means that we do not have the infrastructure to deal well with lots of traffic on the roads.

Also it is important that employers think of the practicalities in advance i.e. how will they notify staff of closures – do they have the ability to send a text?

If you have any questions about employees not turning up to work contact our Employment & HR Partner Kate Brooks on
01202 057754 or kate.brooks@ellisjones.co.uk

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