a snowy street

Snow day pay: where do you stand?

Heavy snow and ice can make the journey to work treacherous, but we often worry we'll be penalised if we don't make it in. Familiarise yourself with company policy before bad weather strikes to make sure you know where you stand.

You’re just a few days into a new job and keen to make a good impression when the great British weather decides to turn nasty. Heavy snow and ice mean that the public transport network has all but ground to a halt and the Met Office is advising against unnecessary journeys.

What do you do? Find a way to struggle into work regardless even though you know you’ll be embarking on a potentially hazardous journey? Or decide that no one else will make it in so why should you bother? And if for whatever reason you are not able to get to work, will a dim view be taken by your boss? Moreover, will you still get paid?

In many cases, there are no black and white answers to the above questions so it is essential that you appreciate what is likely to be acceptable behaviour in such instances and/or what company policy is in place. Although it doesn’t happen very often, extremely bad weather usually takes the nation’s employers and employees by surprise so it is as well to be fully prepared and informed on this subject before it strikes.

Familiarise yourself with the company’s stance on snow days

Legally, an employee is not automatically entitled to be paid if they don’t turn up for work because of snow, so don’t assume otherwise. That said, many organisations accept periodic travel disruption because of the weather and regard it as another expense of the business, explains David Whincup, a partner at law firm Squire Sanders (UK) LLP. But don’t take it as read since the increasingly adverse conditions that the country has faced in the last couple of years have prompted many employers to put specific policies in place.

“If the company has contractual terms that say if you can’t make it in you don’t get paid, then legally speaking, that is valid,” Whincup says. “If bad weather is predicted, be sure to check out the staff handbook and/or your employment of contract to find out your rights and what is expected of you.”

Conversely, there may be collective agreements in place that mean you will get paid if the weather conditions make it impossible for you to get into work. Be aware though that such agreements are likely to include the reasonable steps an employee is expected to take to try to make it in so don’t merely roll over and go back to sleep once you see snow on the ground in the assumption you will get paid.

Other factors to take into account

If an employer suggests you take the day(s) as holiday, by law it must give you adequate notice, which according to the Gov.uk website at is “at least double the length of time” they want you to take in annual leave, so two days’ notice for one day’s leave.

Of course, bad weather is difficult to predict so in many cases this simply won’t be practical. Remember employers cannot force you to take it as part of your annual leave unless they’ve followed the proper procedure (exceptions to this may be if you receive more than the statutory minimum of annual leave and your contract states otherwise).

If you do make it into work and then find the workplace is closed, you should be paid but may be asked to work from another office if it is practical. If you work flexibly, employers may request you to work from home or make up the time at a later date but the Government advice website states they cannot insist on this unless it is written into the employment contract.

Do some forward planning

Investigate what alternative journey options are available so you can be prepared. Keep your manager informed of your situation and let them know about any disruption to your journey at the earliest opportunity.

Inevitably, there will be people who use the conditions as an excuse not to get into work and stories abound of the dedicated worker who battles into the office through the snow and ice while an individual who lives in the same street is notably absent. While employers appreciate not everyone’s circumstances are the same, it is easy to get your card marked by such behaviour.

“If someone says [they will be] trapped at home all day and then when the boss rings they are not there, it will raise eyebrows,” says Whincup, who warns that it could also be more than a black mark that the employee earns. “If they are found to be swinging the lead at that point, it switches straight to misconduct.”

Use it to create the right impression

Bad weather also provides employees with an opportunity to earn some extra points and demonstrate commitment. Making it into work when others don’t will certainly earn you brownie points but don’t attempt it if the journey is too hazardous; think safety first.

If travel to work does look like being disrupted think about how you could work from home and suggest your contingency plans to your manager. Ask about the possibility of the company paying for your stay at a nearby hotel, if an important deadline is looming. Similarly, if you get stuck in the office and genuinely can’t get home your firm should be receptive to putting you up in a hotel.

The bottom line is snow days require a degree of flexibility on the part of both employers and employees. Some issues are covered by the law and policy but as Whincup emphasises, because of the infrequency of snow in this country, much of what is decided between the two sides often comes down to “common sense”.

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