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Are You Prepared for Cold Weather Commuting?

Monday, 16 December 2013

It’s that time of year again when cold weather may start to disrupt the UK’s rather delicate transport network.

Travel disruption can affect anyone so employers and employees should be prepared in advance with coping strategies in place to reduce the impact on business activities.

Ensuring Safety and Fairness when Weather Disrupts Work

Severe weather can create hazardous conditions for employees’ commutes in to work. In these circumstances, employers have obligations and options when it comes to avoiding liability as well as ensuring safety and fairness when dealing with weather-related working conditions and absences.

Some employees will be unable to attend work due to transportation or safety issues, and in this event, employees are not technically owed compensation. However, many employers choose to compensate employees for legitimate weather-related absences if the absence is not the employee’s fault.

Offering a work-from-home option during severe weather warnings may help to alleviate many of these concerns, but not all positions allow for this type of arrangement.

Employee Absence in Bad Weather

If an employee is told not to attend work, non-payment may be considered an illegal deduction in pay. Furthermore, employers may not force employees to use holiday time in the event of a closure. Either of these events would entitle an employee to an unauthorised deduction claim.

Parents are entitled to time off for dependents in the event of an ‘unexpected disruption in childcare.’ School is not technically childcare, but many employers choose to treat a school closure as time off for an employee with children, especially if short notice or hazardous travel conditions preclude other childcare arrangements.

Additionally, employers should be aware of the prospect of discrimination claims if women, who often have primary care duties, or if disabled or elderly employees, who may have limited mobility, are denied an attendance exception for severe weather.

In some instances, employers may suspect an employee falsely claims weather prevented attendance. However, disproving such a claim may be difficult and require a large amount of resources to pursue with little payoff. Pursuing these claims may be worthwhile in cases of repeated absences by local workers though; in this case, standard disciplinary procedures may be implemented.

Keeping Workers Warm in Cold Weather

For employees who do attend work during severe weather conditions, employers must ensure the temperature in the buildings is no less than 16 degrees.

For outdoor employees, there is no designated temperature at which employees must stop work but if employees face dangers of frostbite or hypothermia, these employees should be given ample time to rest in a warmed area and have access to hot beverages.


Employers should never advise employees to disregard any weather warnings and should be prepared to send any employees who do attend work home if any safety advisories recommend such action.

Managerial flexibility is key in these situations, and all employees will not have the same circumstances affecting severe weather attendance.

Maintaining a bad weather work policy for employees can help avoid any confusion about attendance expectations, alternative transportation options, and notification procedures in the event of hazardous or severe weather.

For specialist advice please contact Aneil Balgobin via e-mail or by telephone on 0207 611 4848.

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