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Do I have to pay my employees if I have to close my business due to poor weather or travel disruption?

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The commute to work can be difficult at the best of times, but adding adverse weather conditions into the equation can mean employees may find it impossible to get into the office at all, but what does that mean for their pay? As an employer, you might decide to temporarily close your business due to the weather conditions, in which case your employees would still be entitled to their pay. However, where your business site remains open, you are under no obligation to pay employees who do not attend work due to transport disruption, unless this is provided for in their employment contract. In this article, our Employment Law team detail the considerations you will have to make in regards to closing your business due to weather conditions, as well as alternatives you can offer your employees if they cannot attend work.

What happens if I have to temporarily close my business?

If you decide to temporarily close your business site then you may look to send employees to another location, if you have one. Any employees who have contractually guaranteed hours or salary will still be required to be paid if they are deemed to be “ready and willing” to work. You may, however, have contractual terms you can rely on, such as a lay off clause. If there is such a clause then this might allow you to not pay the employees for the days on which the workplace is closed.

If you have no contractual right to lay the employees off and employees do not consent to a lay off period without pay, then a failure to pay them would amount to a breach of contract. Employees could also claim that you have made an unauthorised deduction from their wages.

Where there is a clause in the employment contract providing for a period of lay off without pay, the employees may be entitled to a statutory guarantee payment, up to a maximum of £29 for any day when work is not available.

Employees must have at least one month's continuous employment ending on the day before the day the business is closed to be eligible for a guaranteed payment. If you reasonably request that the employees remain on standby then they must do so to be available for work. You are under no obligation to pay an employee who unreasonably refuses an offer of suitable alternative employment for a day when the business is closed.

Can I ask my employees to work from home?

If your employees are able to work from home then you will need to check the terms of the employees’ contract. If the contract does not provide for them to work from home when required, imposing this change will be a unilateral variation of the contract. You should talk to your employees about the option of working from home, and ask if they will agree to do so. They are likely to agree to this option if the alternative would be that they would not be paid for the time they are not able to attend work. Where your employees are able to work from home you must pay them their normal wages.

When asking an employee to work from home, you should consider the following things:

  • Their health and safety,
  • How you will safeguard business confidentiality,
  • How you will meet your data protection requirements,
  • Your employees' individual circumstances, such as the space they have available and who else will be present while they are working.

You should consult with your employees before you make any changes to their contracts, but this may not be possible if there are time constraints or unexpected travel disruptions. Therefore, you should speak with your employees in advance about the possibility of homeworking if disruption to public transport means it will be difficult for them to travel to work.

Are there any alternatives to unpaid time off work?

There are a number of alternatives to unpaid time off that you can offer employees, such as:

  • The opportunity to take the day as annual leave,
  • The opportunity to take the day off, but make the hours up on other days,
  • Grant extra paid leave.

Offering employees the opportunity to take absence due to travel disruption or poor weather as paid annual leave could be the employee’s choice but, alternatively, if the workplace is due to close, you may decide to force employees to take annual leave. You should ensure that employees have sufficient holiday entitlement left and should give notice in line with the regulatory requirements. These state that you must give twice the amount of notice as the leave you are asking your employees to take.

If you decide to allow employees to have a day off due to adverse weather or travel disruption and ask employees to make up the lost hours on other days, it must be within a reasonable time frame. In the absence of any flexi-time policy, you and your employees could reach an agreement on this.

You always have the right to grant extra paid leave to employees if you wish but, if the business remains open and employees are not attending work, you can allow employees to just have an unpaid day of leave.

Whatever the strategy you decide on, you should inform employees in good time and have a policy which deals with all eventualities for them to refer to. If you would like our Employment team to review or write you a policy regarding the above issue, you can contact them today on 023 8071 7717 or email employment@warnergoodman.co.uk.

ENDS

This is for information purposes only and is no substitute for, and should not be interpreted as, legal advice.  All content was correct at the time of publishing and we cannot be held responsible for any changes that may invalidate this article.