Snow stopped play?


Date: 7 January 2010

Many individuals struggle bravely in to work when it snows, while others stay at home. Some work from home, whilst others have no option but to take care of their children as schools close. Some workplaces close due to bad weather, and others remain open, if not fully staffed.As the big freeze descends over the UK this week, managers must handle pay and working hours if bad weather stops staff turning up. 

Many individuals struggle bravely in to work when it snows, while others stay at home. Some work from home, whilst others have no option but to take care of their children as schools close. Some workplaces close due to bad weather, and others remain open, if not fully staffed.  

Who is entitled to be paid and for what?

The UK has a remarkably flexible labour market, and the answer depends on what type of contract you have got with your staff, and whether you keep the workplace open. There is no general right for employees who don't turn up for work to be paid, and if you open your workplace and they do not turn up, you may not be obliged to pay. Many employers do pay more than they are required to, but it is important to know when you are choosing to pay more, and when you have to pay. 

Workplace remained open (hourly paid workers)

If the workplace remains open as usual, and the employees fail to make it in to work due to travel difficulties, they are not automatically entitled to be paid for their absence. If they turn up late and they decide to go home early, they are entitled to be paid for the hours they actually work. If you send the employee home early, this has the same effect as closing the workplace for part of the day (see below). Employees can ask you to allow them to take the day(s) as paid leave. You are not obliged to authorise paid leave retrospectively but if you do so, make sure the holiday records are kept properly up to date. You cannot decide to make this a day's leave without the employee's consent. Employees who have to take the day off to take care of their children when local schools shut are entitled to dependants’ leave, which is unpaid. They are only entitled to be paid for the time off if their contract, or one of your firm’s policies, says they are.

Workplace shut

You are only entitled to withhold pay for a lay-off period (when the workplace is closed) if your contract with the employee gives you that right. Check your contracts carefully. If your contracts do provide for ”unpaid layoffs”, employees are still entitled to guaranteed pay at the appropriate rate for the first five days’ lay-off in any three-month period. For these purposes a day's lay-off is a day when less than 50 per cent of ordinary work was provided. Employees are entitled to half their normal basic pay subject to a maximum of £21.50 per day.

Working at home

Many employers have working systems that mean employees could work from home – either as part of their normal working-from-home routine, or on an emergency basis. These individuals are working and should be paid for their time.   

Salaried staff

There is an historic tradition in the UK (fading fast) that distinguishes between staff on annual or monthly salaries, and those on an hourly rate - the old “white collar-blue collar” divide. Traditionally, salaried staff are not paid by the hour, do not receive overtime when they work more hours, nor receive a deduction when they work less. These staff are viewed as being paid for service, rather than for the particular work performed. This group of individuals is generally entitled to pay unless the contract provides otherwise. You should check your contracts carefully.  

This applies even if no work is actually performed or where the employee is prevented from working due to factors beyond their control, as long as the employee remains ready and willing to serve the employer. Ready and willing would normally mean making an effort to get to work where it is safe to do so. Locally based staff who could have made it in would not be automatically entitled to pay if they did not turn up. Many organisations no longer feel comfortable about having a two-tier contract system, and increasingly have one single status contract that applies to all. So it's possible your hourly paid staff may be in the same contractual position as salaried staff. A lot depends on what your contracts say. 

Annual hours and flexi-hours contracts

Check the terms of your contracts - it may be that time not worked does not count for payment, and missed work will have to be performed at another time.

Annabel Kaye is Managing Director of Irenicon Ltd, a specialist employment law consultancy.  

Tel: 08452 303050  Fax: 08452 303060 

Website :

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