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When The Beast Bites... Guidance for Employees and Employers for dealing with weather disruption

View profile for Susan Mayall
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We love to talk about our erratic weather in the UK, but patience is wearing thin for many during the current freeze – especially for employers and those struggling to get to work. With red warnings from the Met Office, motorists stuck for hours on the roads and temperatures in the minuses, most in the UK have felt the bite of "the beast from the east".

If you are one of those stuck on the M62 around Saddleworth and Rochdale as we write – you have our commiserations. Whether to venture out to work in this weather can be a difficult decision. The personal risks of travel in the snow, on icy roads and in windy conditions are obvious. But as an employee, can you just call in and ask to stay or work at home?

And if you are an employer, how do you balance the needs of your business against the safety of your staff?

With weather conditions predicted to stay bad for a week or so yet, read on for an outline of your rights and duties – but keep in mind that communication between an employee and employer is crucial.

If you are in any doubt about what you can and can't do, get in touch with our Employment Team

The Employee Perspective

  • Consider carefully whether it is safe to travel and reasonable for you to do so. This will vary depending on your location. Consider all sensible alternative options for travelling to work.
  • Contact your employer as soon as possible to discuss your options. If you are unable to get into work, can you make arrangements to work from home?
  • An employee has no legal right to be paid if they do not work due to bad weather or travel disruption. However, check whether there is workplace policy that deals with the current circumstances. The policy might deal with your pay entitlement.
  • If an employer requires you to take holiday to cover your absence, they must give you adequate notice. For example, if a day's leave is needed, they must give you two days notice. (In bad weather, there may be insufficient time to give such notice.)
  • If you need to shorten your normal hours (perhaps to deal with disruption caused by the closure of your child's school), again get in touch with your employer as soon as possible to agree on arrangements. You are entitled to take time off to care for a dependent but it will be unpaid. You might want to consider taking annual leave so that you get paid for that time off.
  • If your employer closes your workplace because of the weather, you will normally be entitled to be paid as usual – but do check the workplace policy on this point.
  • If you do manage to get to work, you are entitled to expect your workplace to be heated to at least 16 degrees Celsius. (Check whether there is a workplace policy that deals with this issue). If the temperature in the workplace is uncomfortably cold, discuss options with your employer. Can you work from home? Is there another office you can work from?
  • Keep an eye on the weather. If it is getting worse, it might be safer for you and your colleagues to finish work at an earlier time. Discuss this option with your employer as soon as possible. Raise the issue of whether you will get paid.

Whatever your reason for not being able to get into work, do contact your employer as soon as you are able. Failure to do so could mean your absence from work is classed as unauthorized. This could, in some circumstances, lead to disciplinary measures being taken against you (although you may later be able to show you had a valid reason for your absence and for not 'phoning in' to work).

The Employer's Perspective

  • Review your workplace policies – what do they provide for in this situation? What are your employees' rights?
  • Communication with employees is absolutely key to handling unusual weather disruption in a way that ensures the safety of your employees and meets the needs of your business.
  • If you have to cancel normal arrangements for workplace transport or you decide to close the workplace, your employees will normally be entitled to be paid regardless of the fact that they cannot work.
  • Monitor the conditions carefully. Adapt your position to ensure the safety of your employees. For example, if the weather is getting worse, consider shortening the working day and releasing employees so that they have more time to get home safely. You might offer flexible working arrangements so that the hours are made up at another time. Or your workplace policy might provide that there is no pay entitlement on early closure. Whatever the case, make the arrangements – including pay consequences - clear to your employees.
  • Consider alternative arrangements to minimise the disruption to your business:
    • - Can some employees work from home?
    • - Can flexible working be used to help employees make up their time?
    • - Can you adjust working hours to allow more travel time?
  • If there is a long-range forecast for bad weather, and you can give sufficient notice, you may want to consider asking employees to take annual leave. (You must, however, give double the length of leave you are requiring employees to take as the notice period. Check the employment contract to see if it deals with notice periods for leave.)
  • Deal with all requests appropriately. If parents need time to deal with school closure disruption, remember that they are entitled to take unpaid time-off to care for a dependent. They might want to take annual leave so that they are paid for the time off.
  • If employees are in the workplace, monitor the conditions on a regular basis. Is it warm enough? Can you relax the dress code and allow employees to dress in warmer clothes?

The Self-Employed

As most self-employed are only too aware, if they don't work, they don't get paid.

Those with Worker Status

"Workers" do not have the same rights as employees as set out above. If you have worker status, you should contact your employer and agree exactly on what the payment situation will be for the days you cannot work.

Last word – be prepared

We're nearly into the weekend when - hopefully – more people can stay cosy indoors or enjoy some fun in the snow with their children. But if you do have to drive anywhere - go prepared. Make sure the tank is full of petrol and stick blankets and extra coats in the boot as well as some food and flasks of hot drinks. Many stuck on the M62 last night would no doubt agree.

Contact us

For help and guidance on employee rights, please contact Susan Mayall or one of our Employment Team on 0161 785 3500 or email

Other Guidance

Acas guidance 

De-Ice Your Car to Avoid Court Action This Winter 

Please note that the information and opinions contained in this article are not intended to be comprehensive, nor to provide legal advice. No responsibility for its accuracy or correctness is assumed by Pearson Solicitors and Financial Advisers LLP or any of its members or employees. Professional legal advice should be obtained before taking, or refraining from taking, any action as a result of this article.