Bad weather such as heavy snow can cause major operational difficulties for small businesses as well as issues in the workplace including: staff turning up to work late or not at all due to travel disruptions; matters relating to the closure of the business; and health and safety concerns.
MBB Business Services provides you with an overview of your obligations and arms you with the answers to some of the trickier questions – to help keep you out of the tribunals!
Do I have to pay employees who turn up to work late or do not turn up at all due to severe weather conditions or disruptions to public transport?
There is no obligation to pay employees who fail to attend work or who arrive late due to bad weather or disruptions to public transport for the missed time, unless there is specific provision for such absence to be paid in the contract of employment. The burden is on the employees to get to work and the obligation to pay under the contract of employment arises only where they are ready, willing and available for work. If employees fail to turn up for work or turn up late in these circumstances, you are under no obligation to pay them for time not worked, even though their absence or lateness was through no fault of their own. A failure to pay an employee in this situation is not an unlawful deduction of wages under the Employment Rights Act 1996 because there is no contractual right to any such payment.
However, if employees are having problems getting to work due to bad weather or public transport disruptions, you may wish to consider making some accommodation for them. You should first encourage the employees to explore alternative means of transport, for example other public transport options, walking, cycling, travel by car or car-sharing with other employees.
If my business allows it, should I let employees work from home?
If an employee is still unable to attend work, you may wish to give consideration to whether or not the employee could usefully work from home or from an alternative local office until the travel situation improves, or whether or not the time could be made up at a later date. If these are not viable options, the alternatives available for you are to advise the employee that any time off work in these circumstances will be unpaid, paid or paid on a discretionary basis but in exceptional cases only. You could also suggest that the employee take paid annual leave if he or she wishes to be paid for the time off.
If employees cannot make it in to work, can I require them to take annual leave instead?
You cannot insist that an employee take annual leave without giving appropriate notice. Such notice should specify the day or days on which you require the employee to take leave and must be at least twice the period of leave you require the worker to take. For example, if you require the employee to take one week’s annual leave at a particular time, you must give the employee at least two weeks’ advance notice.
However, there is nothing to stop you asking if an employee would like to take a day’s holiday because of being unable to attend work on that day.
If I close the business because problems with public transport stop employees from turning up to work, do I have to pay staff?
You may choose to close your business if disruption to public transport means that a significant number of your staff, or a few key individuals, cannot get into work. Depending on the nature of the work, some employees may be able to work from home, in which case you must pay them their normal wages.
If employees are not able to work due to your decision to close the business temporarily, this will in effect be a period of lay-off. You should pay the employees their normal wages during this period, unless there is a contractual provision allowing for unpaid lay-off, or the employees agree to being laid off without pay. In the absence of the employees’ consent, or a contractual right to lay them off without pay, a failure to pay them would amount to a breach of contract on your part. Employees may also claim that you have made an unauthorised deduction from their wages.
What if employees have a contractual provision for a period of lay-off without pay?
Even where there is contractual provision for a period of lay-off without pay, the employees may be entitled to a statutory guarantee payment, up to a maximum of £22.20 for any day when work is not available.
To be eligible for a guarantee payment, an employee must have at least one month’s continuous employment ending on the day before the day the business is closed. He or she must remain on standby to be available for work if you reasonably request this. There is no obligation on you to pay an employee who unreasonably refuses an offer of suitable alternative employment for a day when the business is closed.
Is there a minimum workplace temperature below which employees cannot be expected to work?
The Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992 states that, during working hours, the temperature in all workplaces inside buildings shall be reasonable. However, the Regulations do not provide a minimum workplace temperature. Whether or not a temperature is reasonable will depend on factors such as the nature of the workplace and the type of work that is being carried out.
The Health and Safety Executive provides guidance on the Regulations, which recommends a minimum temperature of 16°C for workplaces where the activity is mainly sedentary, such as offices. For workplaces where much of the work involves physical effort, the minimum recommended temperature is 13°C.