No Business Like Snow Business......

We do tend to complain in Britain that with the first autumn leaves, the trains stop and with the first flake of snow the country stops. You may have noticed the odd flake of snow last week and this time things stopped with a vengeance. Stony Stratford was like a very pretty ghost town on Thursday. By Friday a certain welly booted Dunkirk spirit had emerged, a snow igloo appeared on Horse Fair Green (snowmen are so last year!) and our local Budgens, accessible by foot, did the best trade it’s done in a while.

I quite enjoyed an enforced two days in the office. It meant that I could catch up with my paperwork, admire the snowy scene and do some long overdue writing for my friend and colleague Tall Paul (I am a contributor to Alchemy For Managers). The question I have already been asked by client is, “Does my company have to pay employees who don’t make it to work because of adverse weather conditions?” Relatively few businesses have an express contractual term setting out what happens in the case of bad weather.

According to some pundits, an employer probably can’t deduct pay. The rationale is that employees have statutory protection against an unauthorised deduction being made from their wages, so if the employer has no contractual right to deduct pay and if the employee does not consent, deducting pay would be potentially subject to legal challenge. I don’t incline to this thinking*. It’s true that an employer can’t unlawfully deduct wages, but presumably that will be from wages that have been earned and accrued. If the wages haven’t been earned, then the approach will be different. My reasoning is this. As an essential part of their employment contract, employees are under a duty to attend for work.

This duty applies even where extreme weather conditions make the journey to work difficult. If they don’t come into work, then they have not carried out their side of the contract. It is therefore open to an employer to refuse to pay an employee who cannot make it into work because of the bad weather. Before you say “goody!” and snap the cheque book shut, think about alternatives to manage the situation and maintain employee morale. The options available will be heavily dependent on your business, but if it’s possible, it may be worth giving employees the option to work from home in these circumstances.

For many businesses, this is becoming increasingly practical as more and more employees have access to a laptop or a home computer that allows them to fulfil their duties from home. If that’s not possible, an alternative is to allow employees to take the days off as part of their annual leave (it is perfectly legitimate for an employer to do that),or pay them, but make it clear that they must make up the time at a later date. This should neatly cover any problems. And here you can see in action the well-established principle that when you have ten different legal minds tackling a problem, you may well have ten different opinions as an outcome!

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