Employers whose employees want to know whether to come in if there are storms, snow or transport strikes need to know their rights and responsibilities to keep both their business running and their workers safe
If you have a policy dealing with bad weather or public transport disruption, for example, explaining the effort you expect employees to make to get into work on time, and the effect on their pay and other aspects of their employment if they cannot - you must follow it. Many employers find such policies useful and cost-effective because they reduce the potential for confusion, inconsistency and disputes.
The policy may mean employees have to consider alternative means of travel in bad weather: for example, if they usually come in by train, could they take the bus, or add extra travel time in case of delays. Public transport strikes are a different matter, of course, although using their own vehicle may be an option.
Your policy may allow employees to work more flexibly, for example, by allowing them to arrive late and/or leave early, provided they make up the time on another day.
The policy may provide for employees who can do so productively to work from home, but you must consider whether their home working conditions meet health and safety requirements.
The policy should make it clear how and when employees must contact you to let you know if they cannot get into work, as well as keep you informed if they are delayed while travelling to work. If there is no such policy, you may decide these are fair and sensible measures in any event.
Right to pay?
When drafting a policy or deciding what to do if you don't have one, there is no legal automatic requirement to pay an employee who cannot get to work. Instead, their non-attendance is treated as authorised absence. Some employers therefore refuse to pay workers who do not make it in, or they make staff take the time off as part of their annual leave. They often argue that workers who tried and managed to get in will feel it is unfair if others did not try so hard, but are still being paid.
However, other employers do not penalise workers who truly cannot make it into work for reasons beyond their control such as bad weather or serious travel disruption. Some employers include provisions in their employees' contracts or they abide by a practice or custom that employees are paid despite being unable to get to work.
Some employers operate discretionary schemes (which may be informal or set out in employees' contracts, staff handbooks or collective agreements) under which they can make discretionary payments to employees who cannot get into work because of bad weather or travel disruption.
However, there are circumstances when employees may have to be paid anyway, such as:
- When travel time is paid as part of an employee's remuneration, for example, where care workers are paid for travelling from one client to another.
- In some specific circumstances, when the employer is providing the transport, for example, a bus service into work.
Fairness, consistency and discrimination
Generally, your policy and/or any action you take must be fair. You must be consistent and follow proper and fair procedures. You should not require employees to travel if it is not safe or too difficult to do so.
You should also beware the risk of inadvertently discriminating in policies or practices, or when exercising a discretion against certain employees (eg those with school-age children) who may find it harder to get to work on time, or people with disabilities for whom travelling is more complicated.
In an emergency, be aware that employees have the right to take (unpaid) time off to look after dependants such as children, although not if they are taking time off because of their failure to make advance childcare arrangements.