Every year it seems that snow, flooding and leaves on the track lead to people being unable to get to work. What happens when staff call in and say they cannot get in? Can a business owner who consequently cannot open up his shop or offices lay-off his staff temporarily?

Problems in travelling to work

If it really is too dangerous to travel to work, then workers should not put themselves at risk. However, people’s definition and perception of risk is different and that makes it difficult, especially around Reading, where Berkshire and South Oxfordshire villages can be cut off by snow, whilst in town, there is little on the roads. However, if 9 out of 10 staff manage to get to work, then you have the right to investigate if one person “can’t” make it in. You cannot tell them they have to come in, but you can ask for more information about why they cannot come in. Making these enquiries is often enough to change behaviour.

Ultimately, you can discipline or sack someone if you think they are taking advantage. However, you have to be very clear with your evidence that this is the case, otherwise you could end up unfairly dismissing someone and leaving yourself open to a claim.

What happens if your business cannot open because of the weather?

You may have staff who can work from home, or from a different site. You should have a contingency plan in  any event so that you are prepared. A severe weather policy in your staff handbook should detail what happens if weather causes your site to close temporarily.

It is likely you will still have to pay your staff, even if you do close for a while. If you decide to lay off staff, you must get good legal advice as this is a very complicated area of law. Ideally any action you wish to take should already have been included in employment contracts and handbooks.

There is a statutory guaranteed payment for staff who are laid off. If you do not have a severe weather or business disruption policy, you should get one. It may also be worth checking if your current one is up to date.

You should also check your business insurance to see if any problems caused by weather extremes are currently covered or whether you need to add this.

For any help in this area, please get in touch with our Employment Law Team on 0118 958 9711 or email

Further reading

Do You Know All the Legal Facts About Statutory Sick Pay?

Are you breaking employment laws? 10 common mistakes that businesses make

Five Employment Contract Problems

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