What are your employees' rights if snow disrupts travel?

By: Jane Crosby

Date: 12 January 2017

With winter weather descending and ongoing tube and rail strikes, travel disruptions are inevitable. Employers need to understand their employees’ rights and have a strategy in place. Here are the answers to some key questions that your employees could be asking:

Q. Am I entitled to be paid if I can’t get into work due to snow and transportation difficulties?

A. The responsibility is on you to get to work. Generally, there is no legal right entitling you to be paid if you can't get in because of transport problems, including strikes; in some circumstances it can be treated as an unauthorised absence.

While alternative travel arrangements may be possible for some people, this may not be an option for employees who have a disability and employers need to be careful how they administer adverse weather policies in order not to risk discrimination issues.

However, some employers may have contractual, collective or custom and practice arrangements in place relating to pay in such situations so you should also consider whether you would be entitled to be paid in accordance with any of these.

Q. My employer closed the office due to the weather conditions? Am I entitled to be paid?

A. Generally, you would be entitled to be paid if your employer closes the office. If your employer makes a deduction from your pay you would have the right to bring a claim for unauthorised deduction of wages and/or breach of contract to recover the sums owed.

One of the exceptions to this is if you agree otherwise or your employment contract has a clause entitling your employer to lay you off without pay. There are complex rules that apply to such clauses and since you may be entitled to pay at a specified rate you should take legal advice.

Q. What are the alternatives?

A. You should check to see whether your employer has a policy to cover adverse weather. Where your usual means of transport is out of action you should explore other ways of getting into work. It is important that you don’t feel under pressure to risk your safety.

A flexible approach is likely to be the most effective way of dealing with travel disruption and you could discuss with your employer the possibility of working from home, travelling to the nearest office, being paid but making the time up at a later date or taking the time off as paid annual leave or as unpaid time off to care for dependants.

Q. Can my employer force me to take the time off as holiday?

A. Your employer cannot force you to take the time off as holiday without your agreement unless your employment contract contains an express right entitling it to do so.

Q. My child’s school is closed and I can't come to work. What are my rights?

A. A parent of a child has the right to take a reasonable amount of time off where it is necessary to deal with the unexpected disruption, termination or breakdown of arrangements to care for the child. You should check with your employer to see what their approach is, but usually you will not be entitled to be paid for this day.

You are protected from suffering any detriment for taking the time off. However, you must tell your employer the reason for your absence as soon as reasonably possible and tell them how long you expect to be away from work.

Q. What is the minimum temperature that an office should be?

A. Health and safety regulations state that an indoor workroom, such as an office, should provide reasonable comfort without the need for special clothing and normally be at least 16 degrees Celsius.

This winter is likely to see more travel disruptions; employers should have a clear adverse weather policy in place - allowing employees to work from home or from an alternative workplace may help alleviate the misery for commuters.

Copyright © 2017 Jane Crosby, associate at law firm Hart Brown.