Guest article: What rights do employees have when adverse weather hits?

Business, Guest Blog | Fri 1 Feb | Author – Business & Finance

With adverse weather on the way, Naomi Gardiner examines what rights employees have if businesses close – or stay open

While we may have gotten away with relatively mild weather in recent months, the cold snap has finally caught up with us.

Last winter’s Storm Ophelia and Storm Emma caused widespread disruption, with people unable to get to work and businesses choosing to close due to safety concerns. Many employees were unaware of their entitlements when it came to pay and leave, if they were unable to make it into work.

In case that situation happens again, here are five questions to consider so you’re clear on your rights as an employee when adverse weather hits.

  1. Is there a policy in place?

In the first instance, you should check if your employer has a policy on employee absence due to inclement weather or an Adverse Weather Policy. Check your Employee Handbook or Contract of Employment. If there’s one in place, these are the guidelines that should be followed by both you and your employer.

  1. Has your employer closed the business?

If there is no existing policy and you are ready, willing and able to attend work but your employer decides to close the business, then you should be paid for those day(s). If you are not paid, you could have a claim for breach of contract.

  1. What if the business is open?

If there is no office policy in place, and the workplace is open, if you don’t go in then, strictly speaking, your employer may require you to take unpaid leave or annual leave day(s) – even if you genuinely cannot make it to work.

However, employers need to be aware of the requirements of the Safety Health and Welfare at Work Act 2005. This requires them to provide a safe place of work and to ensure that employees do not compromise their safety when travelling to and from work. The weather should be monitored and safety considerations for employees travelling to and from work, as well as those already in work, must be of the utmost importance.

  1. Can I work from home?

Many employers now offer employees the option to work from home, where appropriate. It is considered good employment practice to offer employees flexible working conditions in the face of a red alert.

If your child’s school is closed then you are entitled to take the time as annual leave or agreed unpaid leave. However, this situation does not fall under the definition of force majeure leave.

  1. What are the Government’s recommendations?

Following Storm Ophelia’s code red weather alert in October 2017, the Dáil introduced The Extreme Weather Warning (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2018. Once enacted, the Bill will amend the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 2005 to provide for the safety of employees under certain severe weather warnings issued by Met Éireann. Find out more info here.

For those considering their options, we recommend that you check on any existing policies at your place of work, talk to your employer, and exercise caution during the icy days ahead.

Article by Naomi Gardiner, Associate Solicitor from Augustus Cullen Law Solicitors.