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Travel disruptions and the workplace

Travel disruptions business

Ready for the storm? With wintry weather on the horizon, we look at some of the employment law and HR issues likely to arise from travel disruptions.

Are you required to pay employees who are unable to attend work because of severe weather causing travel disruption?

The general rule is that employers are not legally required to pay employees who are unable to attend work due to travel disruption, even when the problem is beyond the employees’ control.

An employee who does not attend work is not fulfilling their contract of employment and so is not entitled to be paid for the period of absence.

However, it may be advisable for employers to take a more generous approach. In the short term, it could be financially costly to pay employees unable to work due to bad weather, but equally it promotes good staff morale and could pay dividends in the longer run.

On the other hand, if employer-provided transport to work is cancelled due to bad weather and employees are ready, willing and available to work but can’t get there due to the cancellation of that transport, then in those circumstances the employees should be paid for any work time they have missed.

What are the alternative options available where employees can’t get into work due to travel disruptions?

Working from home

Employers could ask their employees to work from home, but if the employee refuses to do so, then the employer does need to be careful.

If working at home in severe weather is not within the employee’s contract of employment, then forcing the employee to do so could constitute a breach by the employer of that contract.

However, if the employee refuses to work at home, then this is likely to affect their entitlement to pay, as mentioned above.  

Annual leave

Employers could ask their employees to agree to take part of their paid annual leave entitlement if they are unable to attend work. Some employees may find this option preferable to losing a day’s pay.

In some cases, the employer may be entitled to require the employee to take the time as part of their paid leave, but it’s recommended that you check the legal position before taking that step.

Other options for employers

  • Allow employees to come in a little later than normal if the bad weather is expected to improve.
  • Use flexible working to let employees make up any lost working time due to travel disruptions.
  • Offer any workers that are able to attend the workplace an option to swap their shift or work overtime.
  • Switch to duties which can still be carried out.

What is the legal position if a business decides to close due to severe weather?

Employees working from home should be paid.

If employees are unable to attend work because their employer has decided to close the premises during the bad weather, this will effectively be a period of lay-off. Employees should be paid their normal wage, unless there is a clause in their employment contract allowing for unpaid lay-off or the employee consents to being laid off without pay.

What about employees who have dependants?

In certain circumstances, employees have a statutory right to a reasonable amount of unpaid time off to care for dependants. For example, this could be to care for their children who are unexpectedly off school due to bad weather.

The employee must provide the reason for and the likely length of absence to their employer as soon as possible. The employee must also state clearly that they are taking the time off to care for dependants.

Working temperatures during freezing weather

Low temperatures could create an unsafe working environment for workers to undertake their roles.

Employers should think about practical considerations, such as relaxing the usual dress code so that employees are warmer or bring in portable heaters.

If a risk cannot be avoided during bad weather, workers should be sent home to protect their health and this should be on full pay. Particular care must be given to pregnant workers.

Is a bad weather and travel disruption policy advisable?

Introducing a bad weather and travel disruption policy makes it easier for employees to become familiar with the steps to be followed if severe weather occurs and helps save any confusion.

A policy also allows employers to plan effectively for their business and gives some flexibility to agree their own arrangements with employees depending upon their business needs.

A final word

Whatever the options decided upon, employers should always be flexible, fair and consistent.

For more information on employer's responsibilities regarding travel disruptions during severe weather, contact the Employment Law & HR team here.

About the Author

Anna Lovett profile photo

Anna Lovett

Anna is an Associate Solicitor in the firm's Employment & HR team.

Published: Friday 11th January 2019
Categorised: Commercial Client, Corporate Law, Employment, HR, Lawyers for Business, Legal Services in Newcastle, Penrith, Small Business / New Business, West Cumbria

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