Snow disruption: your rights if you can't get to work or schools are closed

With the severe weather causing travel disruptions across the UK, what are your rights if you can't get to work or your child's school or nursery closes?

Up to seven inches of snow have fallen overnight the the met Office has issued severe weather warnings for numerous parts of the UK.

When the snow comes, large parts of the country grind to a halt, with roads and rails treacherous and many businesses closing temporarily.

So what are your rights as a parent if you can't get to work?

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?

The easiest solution is to offer to work from home.

But how on earth can you do your job while looking after the kids? And, if you can't, will your pay packet suffer?

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Not all employers are the same

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?

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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 nursery and school closures (which are only announced in the morning) constitute an emergency situation.

Make up the time

You can make up lost time outside of work hours (Image: Shutterstock)

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.

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Practical measures

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 while 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.

Be responsible

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 be far more frazzled than them!

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