While we seem perfectly able to cope with storm force winds – as we saw over the weekend – you know what it’s like here in the islands: one flake of snow and everything comes to a crashing halt.
But, in all seriousness, if there’s a proper dusting of the white stuff following last week’s short-lived excitement at the prospect of sleet and snow, once the islands have ground to their usual standstill, do you have to go to work, and if you run a business, should you staff come in?
We asked Law At Work director Richard Plaster to explain the rights and responsibilities of employers and employees, and answers some commonly asked questions.
Richard said: “The most important point to make is that employers should clearly communicate their expectations for when bad weather results in travel disruption. Many employers will do this through a ‘travel disruption’ policy, or similar.”
“Such a policy should outline what employees should do if they find that they cannot get into work, or where the sudden closure of schools results in parents struggling with caring responsibilities. Information may also be available in staff handbooks or in contracts of employment.”
Here’s Richard’s wintry FAQ…
Q. What do most employers do?
A. Actual practice varies considerably, but in general terms where an employee is unable to get into work they are normally required to either take holidays or make up the time. Where practicable, some employees are able to work at home, but naturally this is not available or possible in all roles.
Q. Do I have to come into work?
A. You should try to take all reasonable steps to get into work. Naturally, you should not take unnecessary risks, and individuals have to use their own judgment on whether it is safe to attempt to get to work.
Q. So if I cannot get to work, can I take a “snow day”?
A. Never just take a day off. You should contact your manager or another nominated person. After all, you are supposed to be at work, so if you are not, you must communicate with your employer. They will be able to confirm what arrangements then need to be put in place.
Q. What if I can’t come in. Can my employer dock my pay?
A. The arrangements vary from employer to employer. An employer may agree, for example, for staff to make up the time at a later date, go to another workplace, or to work from home. However, they are not obliged to do this. In many cases a day off for snow will come out of holiday leave, for this year or next, or unpaid leave. When it comes to unpaid leave, an employer needs the permission of an employee to deduct money from wages, but this may well be already written into the contract of employment.
Q. And what if the schools close?
A. Again, the policy needs to be clearly communicated to all staff but a reasonable employer will, of course, allow an employee to look after their children or other dependants in an emergency. The sudden closure of a school for parents with young children could be considered an emergency. Again, this will probably have to be taken as holiday pay, unpaid leave or made up at another time. Some employers do have emergency leave provisions for those with caring responsibilities, and it may be the case that having these policies will be helpful.
Summing up, Richard said: “The golden rules are for employers to communicate their policies, for employees to make reasonable efforts to get into work and if it is not possible, to immediately contact their employer.”
Now all we need is the snow!