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Do you have to go to work in bad weather?

Published 22 February 2022

The weather is always a good topic of discussion and it feels like the appropriate time to talk about how to deal with any disruption it can cause to work.

The UK has been battered by three ferocious storms in less than a week.

Storm Dudley caused havoc and destruction on Wednesday (16 Feb). Thousands of people were left without power, cars were crushed by falling debris and it caused widespread travel disruption [1 CITED 22.2.22]

On Friday (18 Feb) the hurricane-force winds of Storm Eunice left at least three people dead in what was one of the worst storms ever to hit the UK.

It wrecked properties, toppled trees and again caused widespread disruption to transport. [2 CITED 22.2.22]

And just two days later the Met office issued a warning that Storm Franklin was imminent (20 & 21 Feb) [3 CITED 22.2.22]

The warning was to brace for  more gale force winds, heavy rain, flash flooding and that ‘flying debris’ could put people's lives in danger.

The bad weather will inevitably create problems for employers with many workers simply unable to, or afraid to,  travel to and from work.

In all circumstances employees are of course expected to make reasonable efforts to attend work.

But when atrocious weather conditions pose a real threat to life and cause widespread travel disruption, is it really reasonable for an employer to demand staff attend work or else?

Employees should not be forced to attend work if they have legitimate concerns for their safety.

In such circumstances an employer should be both understanding and flexible in dealing with the situation.

The pandemic demonstrated many employees can work both productively and efficiently from home.  Where workers are able to do so, it should be permitted if they are prevented from safely travelling to work or it is unsafe for them to do so,

In such circumstances, and where an employee cannot work from home, another option to consider is allowing them to request time off as annual leave. [4 CITED 22.2.22]

Damage to property and power cuts caused by strong winds can force some businesses to close completely. If this is the case then employees should usually be paid as normal.

If a worker is unable to attend work because the premises cannot open then any decision not to pay them could be considered an unauthorised deduction from wages [5 CITED 2.2.22]

However, it will depend on employment contract terms. Many contracts will often have a temporary ‘lay-off’ clause, which will mean that for a limited period employers do not have to pay the full amount [6 CITED 2.2.22] .

Bad weather can inevitably force schools to close at short notice, which can result in working parents being made to stay at home to look after children.

As it can be considered an emergency relating to a dependent, the employee is entitled to take dependency leave [7 CITED 2.2.22] . An employer may pay a worker for time off to look after dependants, but it does not have to.

During Storm Eunice, ACAS published some timely advice for both employers and employees concerned about the impact of travel disruptions due to the bad weather [8 CITED 2.2.22]

Top tips for workers affected by the bad weather are:

  • if you cannot get into work due to a travel disruption, then inform your boss as soon as you know
  • look to see if there are alternative travel options to get into work
  • check if your employer can agree flexible working arrangements such as arriving and leaving later or homeworking
  • consider any urgent work that needs to be covered if you cannot get into work

Top tips for employers on alternative working arrangements include:

  • allow workers to come in a little later than usual if the travel disruption or weather is expected to improve
  • offer workers who can get into work the opportunity to swap shifts or work overtime
  • suggest flexible working to allow workers to make up any lost working time or allow workers to take the time off as paid annual leave
  • consider having a bad weather or travel disruption policy that includes contact arrangements, alternative forms of working and what happens with staff pay if a worker is unable to get into work

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For employment law advice or if you are affected or want information and support by any of the issues in this article please give us a call. 

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