Snow joke for employers: A guide to your legal position in adverse weather

Employers are duty-bound to provide a safe working environment for staff. If employees are required to drive as part of their duties, then asking them to work in adverse weather conditions can expose businesses to negligence claims or result in a breach of health and safety regulations.

The major problem facing many businesses is that all employees aren’t equal in terms of domestic circumstances. If staff live within walking distance or can rely on public transport, then it’s reasonable to expect them to come into work if they don’t have caring responsibilities or are affected by school closures. But what about the people who can’t walk in or who have to care for children unexpectedly? What is your legal position?

If it’s business as usual and employees don’t turn up to work, they have no right to be paid. Legally, you’re under no obligation to pay an employee who fails to attend work, as it can be argued that the employee is in breach of contract. However, employees have statutory protection against unauthorised deductions being made from their wages, so if you have no contractual right to deduct pay and if your employee does not consent, deducting pay could be potentially subject to a legal challenge.

In the event of school closures, employees who stay at home to cover childcare are entitled to unpaid dependants’ leave. You only have to give them paid leave if their contract entitles them to it.

Although there is no legal obligation to pay employees who haven’t attended work, it helps staff morale and productivity if you do choose to pay them. Alternatively, you could offer to pay on the condition that they make the hours up over a specified period of time, or give them the option to take paid leave from their holiday entitlement. But remember that you cannot force employees to take annual leave without their consent.
I’ve heard of one company that went through its HR records, identified all staff that lived within walking distance and issued them with snow boots and heavy coats to ensure they could travel in to work! That’s certainly one approach to managing human resources during bad weather.

Bear in mind that a little bit of flexibility goes a long way when it comes to your most important asset; your people.

Wherever possible we advise employers to allow staff to work from home where remote access is possible.

For employers, the balancing act between not compromising on health and safety and business as usual is an increasingly tricky area. At DJM, we are seeing more and more firms come to us asking how to deal with bad weather. Our advice is to make sure you act reasonably, take a consistent approach and communicate your decision clearly to all employees. And if you don’t already have a bad weather policy in place, take the opportunity to prepare for the next time.

What a ‘bad weather policy’ should cover

To prepare for future occurrences of bad weather and other disruptions to your business, it helps to have a ‘bad weather’ policy in place as part of your business continuity plan. This should set out:

  • How the company will react to bad weather and what employees can expect from you
  • Whether you will pay employees who can’t attend work because of the weather
  • Whether any roles can be carried out from home and what IT support is required
  • What you expect from your staff – i.e. that they shouldn’t endanger themselves but should make reasonable and safe efforts to get in
  • Who staff should contact in the event that they can’t make it in or who to notify that they will be working from home
  • If the weather is so bad that you cannot open your premises, who will notify staff?


Paul Jones

Editor of Business Matters, the UKs largest business magazine, and head of Capital Business Media's automotive division working for clients such as Aston Martin and Infiniti.

Editor of Business Matters, the UKs largest business magazine, and head of Capital Business Media's automotive division working for clients such as Aston Martin and Infiniti.