Our first response is always “What does your contract say”?
As a general rule, if staff are absent from work and it is not for pre arranged holiday, then as an employer, you are not required to pay for the missed day. If your contract indicates that you will, ‘for reasons beyond their control’ then you must!
In many cases, employers will work with employees to find the most appropriate compromise. Imagine a retail shop – you need to keep trading, so arranging to change the rosters so that people who can get to work do so and those who can’t, cover more shifts to make up the time once the snow has passed.
If you run an office based business, can employees work from home? A little forward planning might mean people taking laptops home when they wouldn’t normally and forwarding desk phones to mobiles, ‘just in case’.
If staff do make it into work and then their child’s school shuts, parents do have the right to unpaid time of to resolve family emergencies and a school closure would be considered to be just such an emergency.
One option that many employers explore is forcing staff to take the day as holiday. It is not possible to force holiday upon people with such short notice, however if an employee suggests it (rather than having the day unpaid) and you as the employer are comfortable with that approach, then there is no reason why the compromise can not be agreed.
So what then happens if the weather deteriorates during the day and you send your staff home, what are your obligations then? Well, if you close the office preventing staff from carrying out their duties, then you are not allowed to make any deduction from salary.
As an ideal, your contracts of employment or employee handbook, should document a policy and procedure relating to snow days.
As an employer, you have a legal obligation to ensure that your employees are working in a healthy and safe environment. Be mindful of field based staff and drivers. Don’t force them to work if it is not safe for them to do so, as you could end up with a corporate manslaughter case on your hands. Issue advice about bad weather driving and ensure they have emergency provisions in their vehicles. Be prepared to cover accommodation costs if your mobile staff get caught away from home stranded by the snow.