As the UK faces its worst bout of cold weather this winter so far, Unite has joined the TUC in calling for employers to have fair severe weather policies in place for the safety and consideration of their staff.
Unite has also highlighted that it’s vital that workers know their rights under periods of extreme weather.
For example, while Unite urges employers to be fair, bosses are often under no obligation to pay workers for any days off due to bad weather conditions – unless it’s part of their contract/company policy or the employer closes the workplace.
Workers are urged to check their contracts and also speak to their employers and trade union reps to see if they can come to an agreement about paid time off during periods of severe weather if it isn’t part of company policy. Alternative arrangements should be discussed such as working from home, making up the time later or working from a different place of work.
On the other hand, if your employer closes your place of work during adverse weather then they must pay you for the time off that you were available to work but could not because of the closure. If your place of work closes, your boss may ask you to work from home or work from a different workplace that is open.
Employers can also ask you to take paid annual leave if severe weather keeps you from working – but only if they give you the appropriate notice, which is double the number of days you’re being asked to take off. For example, if you’re being asked to take two days’ annual leave because of severe weather, you must be given four days’ notice from your employer. This rule only applies to statutory minimum 5.6 weeks’ holidays – if you are given additional holidays under your contract beyond this legal minimum, then your employer may ask you to take these days off without notice depending on what your contract says.
Severe weather disruptions can be a nightmare for parents when their children’s school closes and they don’t have alternative childcare arrangements. Still, working parents do have rights under law – they are entitled to take a reasonable amount of time off for emergency parental leave, but this will be unpaid unless your contract gives you the right to be paid for this type of leave. Workers are advised however to give their employer as much notice as possible if they need to take leave for childcare.
TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady urged employers to be understanding.
She said they “need to be aware of the difficulties faced by staff whose children’s schools are closed due to the weather.
“Some may be able to take their children to work and others may be able to work from home. But those who can do neither need support and understanding from their employers.”
Above all, safety should always be a primary concern for both workers and bosses – if they feel that their safety is at risk, workers should stay at home.
“It is essential that employers don’t force staff to make dangerous journeys just for the sake of being seen to be in the office,” O’Grady noted.
“For many people the conditions will have made their commute virtually impossible,” she added. “Good bosses will already have bad weather policies in place so staff know what to do. But more employers now need to catch up to make sure their staff don’t lose out.”
Unite employment solicitor Alys Cunningham agrees. “Employers need to treat their staff fairly when faced with extreme weather conditions and safety should always be the number one concern, as an injured worker costs far more than a day off or working from home. If companies do not already have a severe weather policy in place, speak to the union and make this happen. Workers should be aware of their legal rights and Unite is on hand to assist members with any queries.”
Find out more about your rights working in adverse weather conditions here