Solution to … unanticipated winter absences

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Christmas Eve snow at the Cowan Heron Dromore geograph org uk


We all love a white winter. The snow blanketing the horizon, hoarfrost glistening on the bramble, roaring fires keeping us warm, sledging in the park and the spontaneous snowball fight with friends. Yes, we all love a white winter…except when we are working. Grey slush piling up on station platforms, puddles drowning the pavements, sodden socks and treacherous roads carpeted in frozen snow.

For employers, in particular, adverse winter weather creates problems and headaches they would prefer to avoid, such as peaks in employee absences as a consequence of difficult travel conditions resulting from bad weather.

Technically, employees are obliged to attend work unless sick, on maternity leave, on holiday or contracted to mobile working. It is an obligation that applies even in extreme weather conditions. However, whether employers decide to enforce this rule at all costs is down to the wishes of the employer who must weigh up immediate losses to the business against damaging future workforce morale, trust and engagement if employees feel forced into attending work in difficult circumstances,

Here is our advice for employers encountering winter weather dilemmas:


  • If the workplace is open but employees are unable to make it in to work due to adverse weather, the employer is entitled to view the absence as unauthorised and therefore under no requirement to pay the employee.
  • Employers may wish to encourage employees to explore alternative means of commuting should their regular means of transport be unavailable. For instance, side roads may be impassable during heavy snow, yet bus routes on major roads may be open due to overnight gritting, or train lines cleared, making the route into work possible.
  • Employers can request employees to work from home if it is an option, such as adequate IT connections, access to work systems and email. This is a good way to keep employees active without deducting pay. Alternatively, an employer can ask employees to make up the lost time at a later date.
  • Some employees have children and adverse weather often closes schools. If this happens and there is no one else available to look after the children at short notice, there are statutory rules allowing parents to take time off work when childcare is unexpectedly changed. School closure is deemed an emergency situation and employees would be entitled to protection for taking the day off.
  • Beware of employees using bad weather as an excuse for not coming into work, despite acceptable travel conditions. If such unscrupulous behaviour is exposed, the employee or employees in question should face disciplinary procedures,
  • Likewise, should those employees who struggle into work be rewarded for their endeavours? There is a strong argument that such displays of loyalty deserve recognition. However employers need to display caution that rewarding commitment is not seen as legitimizing recklessness. At no point should employers be seen to encourage dangerous behaviour.

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