Payment of Wages During Storm Absences

With Storm Brian on the way just days after the whole country was on red alert due to Storm Ophelia, employers may once again need to consider how they deal with the “grey” area of paying employees when it is unsafe to attend work due to unforeseen weather circumstances arising.

There is no specific legal provision that clarifies clearly whether employees should have been paid a day’s pay for not attending work due to the business closures that arose due to storm Ophelia arriving last Monday (unless individual contracts of employment provide for non payment in circumstances such as adverse weather arising). Whilst normally employers are not obliged to pay wages when work is not completed, as the circumstances that led to non attendance at work last Monday were beyond the control of employees with the whole country on a red weather alert, it is advisable perhaps to take a broader view of the matter rather than waiting to see whether a challenge under the Payment of Wages legislation for non payment would succeed.

Whilst some employees were in a position to work remotely after being requested not to attend work last Monday, this was not the case for a significant number of employee,  and as there was insufficient time to schedule leave in line with the requirements of the Organisation of Working Time Act 1997, non payment would appear to be a somewhat harsh option if employees were not willing to use a day’s leave (and were not legally obliged to do so).

Employees who had annual leave booked already for last Monday should be paid for a day’s leave as normally happens when annual leave is booked, and there is no necessity to alter this or restore the leave.

However it is also understandable that the loss of labour and payment for same could have had resulted in economic losses for some businesses that were not easily retrievable, and in these cases some form of agreement where some of the time could be worked back up might be a suitable compromise to deal with potential losses, particularly in the smaller business sector.

As you can see it is not a straightforward issue and there is no absolute requirement to pay for absences from work due to “red alert” storms. However the health and safety of employees must remain the priority of all employers in these unforeseen weather situations that arise occasionally and a reasonable response will ultimately contribute to employee morale and engagement in the workplace that may provide benefits beyond the actual cost of payment for the day or part day’s absence.

Please contact Carmel Murphy of HR Solutions if you need to discuss your own specific situation for your employees or if you need some assistance putting in place an adverse weather policy that will provide some clarity for your employees on the circumstances that can arise with attending work during extreme  wind, rain, snow and ice conditions.