Are employees entitled to be paid if they can’t get to work in bad weather?Posted in : Seamus Says - Employment Law Discussion on 2 March 2018
Q: What advice would you give to employees?
Seamus: We were looking at one of the covers of the newspapers there and there’s a photograph showing one place that’s full of snow and the other that looks like a summer’s day. It is very patchy. I suppose that’s one of the first things to watch out for here in the sense that there is a marker between different places.
You may have some employees that have made it into work today and are wondering why their colleagues haven’t made it in. We do have to take into account that it is bad in some place and it isn’t bad in others. I don’t think we can jump to the conclusion that we’ve got a lazy employee or anything like that, just to sort of flag that up at the start.
Q: Are employees entitled to be paid if they are unable to get to work?
Seamus: I suppose the main thing is I was looking at a couple of websites this morning and this is a really topical issue for today because we’ve had so much bad inclement weather, but the first for the employer is to say the employees aren’t automatically entitled to pay if they’re unable to get to work because of travel disruption. There’s no legal right for staff to be paid by an employer for travel days unless it’s constituted as part of their working time or in some situations where the employer is providing the transport.
It’s really important to look at the contract as well to see what the contractual provisions are. Some employers may have it in the contract or it might be custom practice that they do pay for those days. So, in general, we’d say it doesn’t apply but you need to be careful in terms of your custom practice, what your contract is saying. There may be discretionary payments that are made for travel disruption as well. That really is up to the employer to decide what it is they want to do.
But I suppose go back to the staff handbook and go back to the contract to see what it says. I think the second thing is: be as flexible as you can where possible. There are other options that you can look at. You can look at the working hours and you can look at the location as to where the employers are working. You may have a number of offices around Northern Ireland. You might have an office outside of Belfast that maybe the employee can go and work in another office for the day instead.
I suppose a lot of it is really looking at measures the employer can take to enhance the employee morale and their productivity and how the employer thinks about handling these sorts of strange circumstances that don’t arise that very often. They are extraordinary. It sticks in the mind of employees. I think it will also stick in the mind of employers in terms of those employees that do go above and beyond and make that extra special effort to try to come into work. There are ways the employer can show its appreciation in terms of doing that.
Scott: It’s strange the way this happened because I know that colleagues at Legal-Island and here in Belfast today managed to make it in, no problem. But another colleague in South Belfast, he couldn’t get out of his yard. I think employers really just have to take cognisance of the fact that if you’re flexible with employees, then you’re a good employer and they’ll want to stay. So, long-term, taking a hard line on something saying, “Get in or you’re not getting paid,” or, “Get in or you’re not getting this,” or, “Get in or we’ll take action,” it’s not really in the long-term interest of any employer to take that line.
Seamus: No, that’s it though. Another important point is use the benefits of your IT. We all have mobiles. We all have smartphones. We have laptops and we have remote access. Maybe for that particular day, the employee can’t get into work, look at the alternative and maybe they can work from home. Maybe there are tasks that they can do.
So, the employer can’t force the employee to come into work if they’re unable to travel. It would be unreasonable. Certainly, you’re looking at health and safety issues and things like that. But you can require the employee to work from home if they’re able to do that and there’s good resources to do it. I think a big part of this is just about planning ahead, looking at what the options are. That goes for both the employer and the employee.
We’ve all known about this bad weather, the “Beast from the East,” as it’s been known. We’ve known about it from last weekend. We knew that it was on the way. What steps do we take in order to try and address this this week where we’re saying, “We know that we’ve got deadlines. We have maybe tender applications or we have things that have to be completed by Friday. Can we look at getting that prioritised and doing that earlier in the week to make sure it’s done?”
A really important point also, I think, is just keeping the lines of communication open. Again, that’s a two-way process. I think where an employee can’t make it into work, there should be a clear line of communication for the employee, number one, to advise the employer why they can’t and second of all, to say, “I can’t make it, but there are things in my desk,” or, “If you’re looking for X, Y and Z, here’s where you’ll find it.” There are those lines of communication. The employee isn’t saying, “Great, snow day, due day, I have no work and I’m switching off completely.” It’s about keeping those lines of communication open, keeping in touch.
Q: What if schools are closed and employees are faced with childcare problems?
Scott: The schools often are the problem. So, at the very last minute, they close and have an impact on parents ability to find childcare.
Seamus: Big impact.
Scott: Some schools are open, obviously, because there’s no snow. Other schools are closed because the bus can’t get up the hill or whatever it happens to be. In those situations, employees have a statutory entitlement to take time off to deal with dependents, but it’s time off to try and make arrangements. If you’ve got childcare and they can’t get to you or they can’t get out of their drive, then the parents really don’t have much option but to take the time off.
Seamus: Of course. And you’re looking at emergency situations where there’s short notice. I know, for instance, yesterday, my sister got a text message from her children’s school at 8:00 in the morning saying, “No school today.” She has no alternative childcare provisions. What does she do? There is that aspect certainly for dependents. They can have unpaid time off. If they can’t make it in because they have no childcare arrangements, then the employer needs to take a sensible view in terms of that as well. Again, it’s back to the employee to make those alternative arrangements, plan ahead and see if there are alternatives that can be done.
I suppose another aspect is that there’s no obligation on the employee to take the day as a holiday, but it may be through negotiations that the employer will agree that the day could be used as a holiday. The employee doesn’t lose out on any payment for that day and they’re using a holiday, so they have one less day they’re taking through the year.
So, there are things that both sides can do in order to try and make this process as easy as possible.
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