Snow days - who pays?

Businesses across the UK are braced for a period of bad weather. A combination of snowfall and travel strikes look set to cause disruption for thousands of firms.

Travel disruption poses a number of potential problems for business owners. You should be considering ways to minimise those problems and keep your business running.

Do I pay employees who can’t get in?

Many small business owners are considering whether or not they are obliged to pay employees who can’t get into work because of the snow. Most legal professionals would suggest that employers do not have to pay their staff in these circumstances, as employees are entitled to be paid only when they are willing and able to work.

But there are a few important exceptions to this. Primarily, it is important to note that you must still pay employees if you have agreed to do so in the employment contract. An employee handbook will also generally be considered to be part of the agreement between you and the employee, so if you say that you will pay them in this document you must do so.

You should also think carefully about the potential impact on employee relations. Although employers are generally entitled to not pay workers who cannot get to work, many choose not to exercise that right. If workers feel they have been unfairly treated, the impact on productivity and workforce cohesion could be significantly more expensive than the day’s wages you would otherwise have had to pay.

What if they have another emergency?

Snow can cause other potential problems for employees. Parents are likely to be particularly badly affected, for example if their child’s school is forced to close.

Employees have a broad right to take time off work to deal with an unexpected emergency affecting a dependant. As an employer you are therefore likely to be obliged to allow them to pick their child up from work, for example. Importantly, though, you should note that you are not required to pay them for this time.

In reality, though, many employers simply ask that the employee comes into work early or leaves late on another day in order to make up the lost time. Depending on the nature of your business this may be a much fairer way of dealing with the situation.

How can I minimise disruption?

Of course, business owners do not want to have to deal with disruption. Instead, if it looks like you will be hit by bad weather or transport strikes at some point in the future, you should be considering ways that you can minimise the potential impact on your operations.

Primarily, you should be considering ways to ensure that the most important members of staff can still get their work done. This is likely to mean that you must develop some way for them to work from home. The nature and complexity of this system will really depend on your business. For example, if your employees require secure access to computer systems you may have to provide them with extra hardware. Alternatively, you might consider using Google Docs or another cloud-based system to allow employees to collaborate on items that do not require high levels of security.

If yours is a consumer-facing business, your most important concern is likely to be making sure that you can open. Of course, if employees simply cannot get to work, there is little you can do about this. You should, however, make sure that you develop a system that ensures you are told promptly when an employee is unlikely to be able to make it in. Where possible, you can then make alternative arrangements quickly.

Finally, you should make sure that all employees know the score when it comes to travel disruption. By telling employees in advance (ideally when they first join the company) whether or not they will be paid if they cannot get to work, you can avoid unpleasant disagreements later on.

Snow and strikes have the potential to cause significant disruption to your business. But with a bit of forethought you can minimise the impact and keep your business running efficiently.