Have you missed work due to the ‘Beast from the East’ or ‘Storm Emma’, or any other bad weather event?
Are you entitled to be paid if you are not at work?
Can you be disciplined for failing to show up?
Let’s take a look, shall we?
Firstly, is there any policy in your workplace to deal with this?
Sometimes there is-for example, the Department of Education has certain policies in place for adverse weather conditions for the assistance of school management.
Most workplaces, however, will not have any policy to cover events such as weather related absences, or other exceptional events.
If there is no policy, and the employer decides to close the business it is almost certainly the situation that staff should be paid as the decision to close is the employer’s. The employee can argue that she is ready, willing and able to work and the decision to close was solely the employer’s. Arguably, this would be a breach of contract situation.
If, however, the employer does not close then the obligation is on the employee to show up for work.
Yes, I know, it appears harsh and bad weather events can play havoc on workers who have kids in school and the school closes, or there is significant difficulty in actually getting to work as public transport has curtailed or abandoned its service.
But the legal position is that if the employee does not go to work he will not be entitled to pay.
That’s not to say that many employers may choose to pay, or may come to some other arrangement such as giving the employee the choice of whether to take the day as a day of annual leave or not.
What happens if the employee does not make it to work and the business is open?
The employer can invoke the disciplinary procedure if she feels that the employee is acting the maggot and is using the bad weather as an excuse to take a ‘duvet day’.
It would not be advisable, however, for an employer to use the disciplinary procedure if there is a genuine problem with the employee making it to work.
Win the battle, lost the war
Employers should be mindful of not making the mistake of winning a short term battle, but losing the long term war.
What I mean is that the employer would be wise to take a more medium to long term view of events which may only last a day or two and demonstrate how much they value their employees, rather than cracking the whip in a way which may be counterproductive in the long term relationship between the employer and employees.
It would also be smart for the employer to have a policy to deal with extreme or exceptional events such as weather events or transport strikes and so forth, and to ensure it is clearly communicated to all employees. This could be included in the staff handbook, for example, and the staff handbook referred to in the contract of employment.