Snow your rights!
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With a number of schools and nurseries closed due to the adverse weather conditions, what does this mean for working parents?
Isn't snow great? That lovely sparkly white stuff - it makes fabulous snowmen and just makes everything look so pretty.
That is until you remember this sudden deluge has brought the country to a halt, making the roads and rails treacherous and forcing many businesses to temporarily close.
Now most of us probably think this is great - who's going to complain about being forced to stay at home as work is shut? But things can be very different for parents who work.
Working from home
The trouble is, like many parents I work from home - so the weather really has little impact on whether or not I can meet my deadlines. Having two young children to look after at the same time, however, definitely does!
Clearly all is fine and dandy if your company has been forced to close too - you can happily spend all day making snowmen with the kids. But what if your office or workplace is open, your colleagues have battled their way in and you could work from home. How on earth can you do your job while looking after the kids? And if you can't will your pay packet suffer?
What are your rights?
Well, it all depends on your employer as to how you will be treated. The Employment Rights Act 1996 does protect employees to some extent as it means employers cannot simply dock pay without a good reason.
That said, as a general rule employees are entitled to be paid only for the work they have done. So if you can't come into the office or work from home to complete the work you're paid to do, your employer doesn't have to pay you.So what is the likely outcome?
Contracts and goodwill
Well, you may be lucky and find that your contract or workplace policy has a clause that deals with adverse weather conditions, allowing employees who can't work to still be paid. Alternatively you may find your employer will still pay employees as a goodwill gesture.
But what if there isn't such a policy in place?
Emergency unpaid leave
Employees are entitled to a certain amount of unpaid leave in order to deal with emergencies concerning their dependents (children, spouses, partners, parents, or anyone that relies on the employee for assistance).
And while this would not normally include employees needing to take time off due to not having made childcare arrangements, it could be argued that school closures (which are only announced in the morning) constitute an emergency situation.
Make up the time
Another option taken by many companies is to allow employees the time off, as long as they make it up later. So depending on the job you do you could work late (when the kids have gone to bed) and/or make up the time when the weather has improved by working extended hours.
And of course, your employer may decide that employees can deduct the time off from their annual leave entitlement.
Alternatively, there are other measures we can try ourselves to deal with the situation.
Roping in relatives to help at short notice with childcare is an obvious solution. But if your folks live too far away or are unable to help, and you know (and trust) another parent in the same boat you could try and share childcare between you.
For example, one parent could take all of the kids in the morning and give them lunch whilst the other one works, then swap over for the afternoon and dinner. This does rather depend on knowing another parent of similarly aged kids who'd be up for participating at short notice (and that you're both prepared to look after numerous kids at once!) but does at least show willing to your employer.
All going well you'll come up with a workable solution between you to deal with the situation that won't result in losing pay.
The main thing is to keep your employer informed.
- Let your employer know as soon as you know you won't be able to get in to work and discuss your options.
- Explain why you can't travel in (schools closed and no childcare available, cancelled trains, car snowed in, warnings on travel news etc) and ask what you should do (work from home if possible, etc).
- Finally, be sure to clarify how this will affect your pay (will time off be taken as unpaid leave, holiday or can it be made up later?).
Above all, remember that snow days are a nightmare for businesses so it is bound to be greatly appreciated if you can somehow make arrangements to get to work/work from home.
But of course, whatever your company's procedure you could find resentment in the office if some workers have struggled their way in while others must stay at home due to childcare commitments.
Let's just hope colleagues can be understanding regarding these unusual conditions - what they probably don't realise is that after an impromptu day looking after over-excited kids you'll probably find yourself far more frazzled than them!
This is a lovemoney.com classic article