Although employers may have a legal right to withhold workers’ pay if they do not come into work because of the snow, such action could not only be challenged but could also hit morale.
The legal lowdown stands as follows: staff members are legally obliged to get themselves to work and companies are entitled to dock pay from people that stay at home because of the adverse weather. Alternatively, they can ask them to make up the time at another date, according to guidance issued by law firm Pinsent Masons.
But employment specialists at the company said that this was not necessarily the most sensible approach to adopt, not least because of the shades of grey around the situation.
“Employees have statutory protection against an unauthorised deduction being made from their wages without their consent and deducting pay could potentially be challenged as unlawful under these provisions,” the guidance said.
This means that HR professionals would be well advised to assess whether not paying personnel was actually in the best interests of the business. The financial burden involved in paying them ma,y in fact, be "outweighed by the benefits that such a gesture would have on staff morale and productivity in the long-run – especially if the snowfall is particularly heavy and it is impossible to get into the office”, the guidance continued.
Moreover, organisations cannot force employees unable to get to work to take the time off as holiday. Workers with children have a statutory right to take time off if there is ‘unexpected disruption to childcare’, a category that could include school closures, although strictly speaking, employers would not be obliged to pay them.
But if the decision were taken to do so, it was important to adopt a consistent approach for staff without children in order to avoid causing resentment.
While indoor workplaces must be heated to a temperature of 16 degrees Celsius or higher, meanwhile, there is no minimum protection in place for outdoor work. Nonetheless, health and safety legislation means that organisations must undertake thermal risk assessments and provide affected personnel with protective clothing to help them avoid hypothermia and frostbite.
The best way for employers to avoid disruption as a result of extreme weather, the guidance said, was to put suitable policies and technologies in place to enable personnel to work from home.
Further reading: see our Winter Survival Guide for help with health and safety and policy issues