UK snow: What are your employment rights if you can't get in to work?

Weather warnings remain in place for vast swathes of the country after extreme wintry conditions caused by the 'Beast of the East' and Storm Emma.

Snow and icy conditions as well as strengthening winds have wreaked havoc across the UK bringing roads to a standstill and leaving commuters facing travel disruption for the fourth day in a row.

Red weather warnings expired at 2am on Friday but amber and yellow warnings remain in place for much of the country as forecasters warn the UK "is not out of the woods yet".

Hundreds of schools will remain closed in parts of the country and train companies have warned of further cancellations and disruptions making it difficult for many to commute into work.

So what are your legal rights if the weather forces you to take a day off?

Snow and icy conditions have caused perilous road conditions. Credit: PA
  • Do I still have a right to be paid if I can't get in to work?

The Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS) says there is no automatic legal right for a worker to be paid for working time they have missed due to travel disruption or bad weather.

However, if employer-provided transport is cancelled due to bad weather and an employee is "ready, willing and available to work", workers should be paid, ACAS said.

Workers should let their employer know as soon as possible if they are absent or late, ACAS said.

Employees ready and available for work should be entitled to pay if their workplace closes due to extreme weather. Credit: PA
  • What happens if my company closes for the day?

According to ACAS, workers who are ready, available and willing to work will usually be entitled to their normal pay, if:

  • the employer fully or partly closes the business

  • the employer reduces workers' hours

  • other essential staff such as line managers are unable to get into work

  • staff who provide access to the building are unable to get into work

Some companies will have a policy in place for special circumstances like these such as instructing employees to work from home or working at another, more accessible site.

However, some contracts may allow employers to "lay off" some staff without pay, ACAS said, but anyone with employee status will usually have a right to statutory guarantee payment.

Children may relish a day off school to play in the snow but parents may struggle to find last minute childcare. Credit: PA
  • What rights to I have if I need to take time off for last minute childcare?

As hundreds of schools closed due to the snow, many parents were forced to take an unexpected day off work to care for their children.

ACAS said that in an emergency situation involving a dependent, anyone with employee status has the right to take unpaid time off.

This includes the following scenarios:

  • A school is closed and a worker cannot leave their child

  • Caring arrangements for a disabled relative are cancelled

  • A partner is seriously injured as a result of bad weather

Employees should contact their employers as soon as they know they need time off explaining the situation and the likely length of absence they are taking.An employer and employee could agree that this time could be taken as annual leave so the worker does not miss out on pay.

Employers should ensure the workplace temperature is 'reasonable'. Credit: PA
  • What legal requirements should employers adhere to in extreme weather?

Employers have a duty of care to make sure that temperature in an indoor working space are reasonable.

The Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992 places a legal obligation for companies to ensure temperatures in a workplace are reasonable but the law does not stipulate a minimum or maximum temperature.

However, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) recommends internal work spaces should normally be at least 16 degrees Celsius or 13 degrees Celsius if a lot of the work is physical.

The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 require employers to make a suitable assessment of the risks to the health and safety of their employees, and take action where necessary and where reasonably practicable.

ACAS said that an employer should consider flexible arrangements to ensure their employees safety, such as:

  • relaxing dress codes to enable staff to wear warmer clothing

  • extra breaks to make hot drinks

  • bringing in extra heating options such as portable heaters

ACAS said employers should take extra care of vulnerable workers, such as pregnant employees.

If a risk cannot be avoided or removed some workers may have to be sent home to protect their health, usually on full pay.

The Health and Safety Executive recommends frequent breaks for outside workers. Credit: AP
  • What provisions should be in place for me if my job is outside?

The HSE recommends that employers should introduce steps to ensure employees who regularly work outside protection from the cold.

These could include:

  • Mobile facilities for warming up

  • Ensuring protective equipment for workers is appropriate for cold weather

  • Providing more breaks so workers can have hot drinks or soup to keep warm

  • Consider delaying non essential outdoor work for warmer times of the year

  • Educating workers to spot the signs of cold stress