WITH a warning of snow in force – even though we’ve seen very little of it so far – now may be the time to consider what happens at work if the weather turns colder.

We asked employers and employment lawyers for their advice on what to do in the event of a big freeze.

Can my boss make me come to work it it’s unsafe?

No.

Amy Cousineau Massey, head of employment for Bournemouth-based solicitors Steele Raymond, says: “Employers owe a duty of care to their employees and must not put them in a situation that would compromise their safety.”

Will I be paid if I don’t come to work?

Kate Brooks, partner in Ellis Jones in Bournemouth, says: “The employee is only entitled to full pay if the employer opts to close the workplace or tells them not to come in.”

Amy Cousineau Massey argues: “The law is not clear on this point. If an employment contract sets out that payment will be for work done – for example hourly paid workers – then arguably the employer is not obliged to pay.

“However, in the case of salaried employees, if the employee was ready willing and able to work bar the weather disruption there could be an argument that any deduction would be unlawful. As the law is unclear, employers need to set out their position clearly and draft their policies and contracts in line with that position.”

Business in Dorset:

If my workplace closes, do they still have to pay me?

Generally, yes.

But Amy Cousineau Massey adds: “Employees with contractually guaranteed hours must still be paid – however, zero hours employees or employees with effective lay-off clauses might not need to be paid.”

What if my school or childcare provider is shut?

If that happens, parents are allowed unpaid time to make other arrangements.

If the parent can’t make other arrangements, they could do the childcare themselves and take up their right to unpaid parental leave.

Is there a minimum legal temperature in the workplace?

An approved code of practice says that the temperature must be at least 16 degrees Celsius in an office and 13C in places of physical labour.

But Amy Cousineau Massey of Steele Raymond points out that these limits are not legally binding.

“An employer should risk assess and determine what is reasonable in each circumstance,” she says.

“Employers have a duty of care towards their employees. This will apply in the event of extreme weather including thermal comfort of employees, but there are no prescribed limits.”

Business in Dorset:

What else do I need to know?

This is the kind of area where an unsympathetic boss can become unpopular.

Ellis Jones partner Kate Brooks has thought about this in the light of the ‘Beast from the East’ – the sudden blast of snow and ice that caused severe disruption locally on March 1-2, 2018.

“My view is that employers need to be really careful about trying to penny pinch for two reasons – health and safety and morale,” she says.

“Last year, things changed very quickly i.e. in a matter of hours the roads became un-drivable and really dangerous. If you didn’t make the right call about closing or shutting, staff were stranded on their way home and the result of this was that the emergency services were overloaded.

“The knock-on impact of this has to be worse than losing half a day’s work.

"In terms of morale, if it is clearly dangerous to be at work and you are being forced in, you will have zero respect for your workplace and also, the time that people spend at home on a snow day with family and friends is really good for wellbeing which can only be a good thing in the long run.”

Tom Doherty, managing director of the HR Department, which provides human resources support to small businesses locally, advises employers: “Plan ahead and have a severe weather/disruption to travel policy and communicate it everyone in advance.

“Take into what the local roads/buses are operating like and could a delayed start/early finish to the day be more realistic to assist staff.

“If you believe someone could have got in, but just wanted the day off, be reasonable and check out about local roads/links. Investigate and listen to justifications prior to proceeding to any potential disciplinary hearing for AWOL.

“Is working from home feasible? Is taking annual leave an option for staff? Make up the time at another time?

“It’s not worth people risking their lives trying to get in, but common sense should prevail from both employee’s and employer’s perspective.”

Dion McCarthy, litigation solicitor at Coles Miller, says: “It is advisable to have a policy setting out how the employer will deal with adverse weather and advice should be taken from a human resources practitioner or a solicitor. I believe there are a number of business reasons to go further than the law requires, so as to enhance staff morale. Indeed, Acas encourages a 'flexible' approach: ‘The handling of bad weather and travel disruption can be an opportunity for an employer to enhance staff morale and productivity by the way it is handled’."

Mark Kiteley, director at Bournemouth law firm Rawlins Davy, adds: “A good employer should plan ahead. Review or update your work place risk assessment – every work place will be different. Make sure employees know what is expected of them." If a site will be closed, how and by whom will employees be informed?”

Amy Cousineau Massey agrees that having a policy is key. “Where the law is not clear, having clear policies and contractual provisions is a must and communicating these provisions clearly to all employees is essential. Some employers will want to go further than the law requires in order to maintain staff morale or for public relations considerations,” she says.

Bournemouth life coach Lesley Gorman adds: "I believe a good employer should be reasonable (hard to quantify I realise) and considerate of general morale. It hardly ever snows properly here in Dorset so when it does, give your staff the day off!

"Let them have fun, stay safe and make memories with their family and friends. For employers surely the longer-term payoff is obvious."