Storm Emma, the Beast from the East and other severe weather has disrupted business in the UK substantially since the start of the year. This brings in its wake some interesting questions about employee rights.
Though spring might be on its way, with more snow forecast in Britain, rail and road problems could still make the daily commute difficult, if not impossible.
So, with police warnings to only travel when necessary, what rights do you have as an employee to opt to stay at home as oposed to making it to your office desk?
Flexible work patterns - As flexible working is far more acceptable and normal these days, and the internet has made it easy to work from any location, there is rarely a problem if you work field sales, for example. Setting up your laptop or mobile to work from your home office desk or sitting on an ergonomic office chair at your kitchen table may not be an issue.
However, if your presence in the workplace is required – such as working machinery or supervising a warehouse - then a snow day may be more disruptive. Do you know your company's adverse weather policy?
Rights and customs -There is no automatic obligation for employers to pay you, on days you can’t get to work safely. However, most employers don’t dock wages for snow days as a matter of courtesy. This is often a discretionary and informal agreement.
Some employment contracts include specific mention of these circumstances, and an agreement on the limits and boundaries if you opt to stay at home.
Check your contract for such issues, as your employer may ask that you take snow days from your annual leave allowance or that you complete the lost hours at a later date.
What if schools close? - If you could get to work, but you stay at home due to other weather related conditions – such as closure at your children’s school – that is a different scenario. Employers often class this either as annual leave, or give you the option of taking an unpaid absence.
Check with your own employer - It would be rare in these enlightened times for employers to demand that you come to work in any of these circumstances, but if in doubt, check with your HR department and find out what support your employer provides for snow days.
The employment advice and conciliation service - Acas - also recommends that you talk to your employer about any grey areas. This is particularly relevant when you could get to work, but choose not to due to family obligations and concerns.