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11/17/2015 2:51:14 PM

Snow day? Snow problem!

So far this winter the weather has been an uninspiring mix of mild and damp, interspersed with the odd named storm - we've got to know Abigail and Barney quite well over the last few days! However, this week forecasters have warned us to prepare for the mercury to fall, with the first snows of winter predicted to hit any day. In addition, long range forecasters have identified the strongest El Nino weather pattern for several years which could see severe snowy weather cripple the country on a scale not seen since 2010.

Once upon a time, we would wait with baited breath by the radio to find out whether our school was indeed closed for a magical ‘snow day’ but nowadays, snow can seem little more than an irritation, particularly when we need to be in work.

What happens if you are unable to get to work because of the snow? Will your pay be docked? How can you work efficiently from home? Supertemps readers, let’s grab a snow shovel and clear some things up!

Firstly, it is important to acknowledge that different employers will react differently to extreme weather. There are many vital industries that must remain functional even during snowstorms, heat waves and all weather events in between - emergency services, healthcare providers, nursing homes and utilities providers to name but a few. However, other, non-essential industries will have a variety of attitudes and policies towards extreme weather events.

If the forecasters are correct, many of us will be faced with deciding whether or not to take a ‘Snow Day’ in the coming weeks. This is not a decision to be taken lightly and requires some serious thought about how it will impact upon you and your employer.

In areas where snowfall is comparatively mild and infrequent, the North Wales coast being a prime example, or where snowfall is the norm, the mountains of Snowdonia for instance, a decision to stay at home may be frowned upon by your employer and any undeterred colleagues. Your employer may interpret your white flag to the white stuff as a sign of an unmotivated or dissatsified employee, looking for any excuse not to come into work. Your colleagues, who might have traipsed in by foot through foul weather, will not be sympathetic to your excuses if it was considered safe and appropriate to come in.

Will your boss will be at work while you are not? Will the company be hurt by your absence? Does your overall attendance record compare poorly with that of your colleagues? Is it possible to get into work by other than your usual means - on foot or by public transport?

If the answer to any of those questions is ‘yes’ and, if you are safely able to, go to work.

Getting to work safely

If you’ve decided to battle the elements, make sure that you’re prepared well in advance.

Driving? Stock up on essential travel items including an ice-scraper, in-car mobile phone charger, de-icer and an emergency blanket plus provisions (high energy foods such as cereal bars or chocolate are ideal) and a flask containing a hot drink. These should ensure a more comfortable wait if you get stuck in traffic, snow or both.

For added peace of mind out on the road, make sure your mobile phone is fully charged before leaving the house and that you have sufficient petrol, in case you are forced to take a diversion.

When driving, take it slow and steady; many accidents occuring in freak weather are down to drivers not taking into account the unusual or hazardous conditions. 

Catching the train? Those of you who regularly take the train to work will be used to delays and service cancellations, but it's is far more likely to happen during periods of extreme weather. Many rail service websites, like Virgin and Arriva Trains Wales, provide regular travel updates, listing any service interruptions. Check travel updates when you get up in case you need to make alternative travel arrangements.

Walking to work? On an icy or snowy day, the walk to work will take longer than usual so allow some extra time for your journey. Like drivers, it is advisable to carry a few provisions and a hot drink with you, just in case you get held up.

Wrap up warm, layers are best as they can be added and removed quickly depending on temperature fluctuations, and wear suitable footwear, waterproof if possible and with good grip on the base. 

Whatever you wear, bear in mind office attire wasn’t designed to withstand harsh weather conditions - carry your office/work clothes with you in a bag and change when you arrive at work. Don't try to negotiate an icy street in high heels unless you want a trip to A&E!

Work from home? For some people, the hazards associated with taking a Snow Day are dramatically reduced if you can work from home. If you have remote access to your work system then it is feasible to stay at home and still work productively. Any regular tasks you are unable to carry out can generally wait until the next day and as long as you can be contacted, by email or phone for instance, then crises need not occur in your temporary absence.

What are my employee rights for ‘Snow Days’?

If you are able to get to work but the office itself is closed, you are entitled to pay. Furthermore, your employer cannot require you to take the time as annual leave. However, don’t put the kettle on just yet – you could be expected to work from home or from another workplace, if that is possible in your job.

The employment advice and conciliation service, ACAS, states that in the majority of cases, your employer is not obliged to pay you if you cannot get to work, but that does not necessarily mean you will lose out.

Some employers may have it written into their employment contracts that they will pay you if you cannot get to work due to circumstances beyond your control.

Ultimately, however, this decision will be made at the discretion of your employer – some may be happy to pay you as normal, some won’t.

Your employer may suggest the day be taken from your Holiday Allowance, or that you make up the hours as overtime in order to retain the lost day’s wages in your next pay. You do not have to accept either option, but you may prefer it to losing a day’s pay.

If your child’s school is closed, your employer is by law obliged to allow emergency time off. However, they are not obliged to pay you for the time taken, so you may want to make arrangements for childcare as soon as you think ice or snow is a threat.

If you have decided that it isn't safe to go to work contact your employer in plenty of time to inform him of your absence. Be prepared, your employer may be unhappy with your decision, but ACAS states they cannot legally force you to come to work during adverse weather.

Your employer can only force you to take a day off as holiday if you get more than the legal minimum of twenty-eight days, including public holidays.

I'm dreaming of a...

I think we can all agree that snow is both a rare and special event, especially in this corner of Wales, and the frisson of excitment that accompanies it harks us all back to childhood. Snowball fights and snowmen aside, however, always consider carefully the implications of not going into work on a snowy day. If, having assessed the risks of undertaking the journey to work during any freak weather event, you are not fully satified that it would be safe to do so - DO NOT attempt to travel.   



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