Sarah Chilton: 'Time off' could create chilly atmosphere at work

COULD the commuting problems caused by recent Arctic weather lead to a "them and us" schism in the workplace? It is clear that the farther you live from work, the more likely you are to be delayed – or not turn up at all.

This raises concerns that those who live within reasonable commuting distance of work, and most likely to turn up, will begin to feel aggrieved that their colleagues are effectively being given days off because they have chosen to live in some rural or coastal location.

I see parallels with smoking breaks in the workplace, where non-smokers are showing resentment against those who disappear to feed their habit and are asking why they cannot have such breaks.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

People who live within a short distance of the office will start to ask for "snow breaks" of their own in lieu of others' "snow days".

However, while employers can request that snowed in staff take any missed days as paid holidays, they cannot force them as the employee's consent to treat the absence as annual leave is required.

An employer may dock salary as he is not legally obliged to pay a staff member who does not turn up for work, even when weather conditions are as extreme as of late. That is unlikely to mollify staff who do turn up, especially if they have to cover for colleagues.

Some employers seem to be taking a relatively liberal attitude, making a presumption that most absent staff had made every effort to get into work and are allowing staff who cannot make it in to take the days as paid holiday or, where possible, to work from home. That, for now, may be the a most sensible approach but formulating a more exact strategy, and informing employees of policy in these situations, may be necessary.

Employers could be within their rights to insist that anyone who chooses a lengthy commute has a responsibility to negate the problem in bad weather by arranging overnight accommodation close to the office with relatives or friends or even staying in a hotel at his or her own expense.

• Sarah Chilton is an employment lawyer with Murray Beith Murray