Employers warned to review snow policy

AN East Anglian law firm has warned that the region's employers need to learn som important lessons from the “big freeze” which gripped the country earlier this month.

AN East Anglian law firm has warned that the region's employers need to learn som important lessons from the “big freeze” which gripped the country earlier this month.

With more snow expected, Essex-based Birkett Long says firms of all sizes need to introduced “bad weather” policies so that their employees understand their rights to pay in the event of missing work.

An estimated one if five UK workers missed some time at work as a result of some of the heaviest snowfalls for decades at the start of January.

Although taking a “snow day” was the only option for many, where travel was impossible, some were hit hard in the pocket.

Many employers refused to pay wages and so forced disgruntled workers to take the time as holiday or to make up the hours, causing bad feeling between staff and management.

Martin Hopkins from Birkett Long, which has offices in Colchester and Chelmsford, urged employers to learn from this and take measures to put in place a bad weather policy to prevent future confusion and upset.

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“Some well-known high street supermarkets refused to pay workers who took snow days in January, which resulted in public outrage.

“While it might seem completely unfair to withhold wages when workers might have snowed-in children to care for or the roads are too treacherous to travel, the law is actually on the side of the employer.

“Businesses are not legally bound to pay employees who cannot work due to bad weather. Employees are only entitled to be paid for work completed.”

However, employment policies do vary, said Mr Hopkins: “Forward-thinking employers will be fair to staff, use their discretion and encourage alternative, flexible ways of working, such as working from home.

“What's really important is that businesses draw up a bad weather policy now and communicate it clearly across the organisation, so if and when the white stuff returns, staff understand the consequences of missing work.”

Employees also had their part to play in avoiding confusion, added Mr Hopkins. They should check their contract of employment thoroughly and fully understand their rights to avoid feeling short changed because of bad weather in the future.

“Each employment policy will vary,” he said. “It's really important to thoroughly check your contract of employment and fully understand the implications for staying away from work due to snow.”