Can parents take time off work if their child's school shuts due to snow?

Are parents entitled to time off for snow days? [Photo: Getty]

Britain has been told to brace itself for heavy snow this week, which could lead to schools closing to cope with the chilly conditions. Brrrrr.

While children will no doubt be scrambling for their sledges to make the most of the unexpected snow day(s), for working parents, unexpected school closures = stress.

So are parents entitled to take time off to look after their children when snow fall shuts schools?

Do you want the good or the bad news?

Let’s start with the good. The good news is that you are allowed time off in such instances and your employer can’t technically refuse you.

Under the Employment Rights Act 1996 the law states that an employee is entitled to take a “reasonable amount of time off during the employee’s working hours because of the unexpected disruption or termination of arrangements for the care of a dependant.”

On the flip-side, there is no guarantee that you’ll get paid for the day(s) you need to take off, and it will likely depend on your employers policy on these particular kind of circumstances.

“If the employee cannot get in to work because a child’s school is closed then this is time off for family emergencies but there is no statutory right to be paid for this time off, unless the contract says otherwise,” explains Beverley Sunderland, Managing Director, Crossland Employment Solicitors.

Thankfully, many places of work are often pretty flexible on this, and may allow to work alternative hours or take the time off completely.

“These days with flexible and agile working, many employers put in place a bad weather plan which enables many employees to work from home. However, if your job is on a production line then this will be difficult. If the employer closes the workplace or reduces hours, or the work cannot be done because there are insufficient supervisors, but the employee is ready, willing and able to work, then they would still need to be paid.
 
“The best thing to do is talk to your employer and discuss a plan in advance of bad weather,” she adds.

Snow days: great for kids, stressful for working parents [Photo: Getty]

It isn’t just snow days you’re entitled to take time off for either, parents can also request a leave of absence if, for example, childcare falls through unexpectedly.

“If your child’s school ever closes unexpectedly, for example, a mains pipe bursts, a parent is entitled to request time off under the time off for dependents policy,” advises Maria Hoeritzauer, Senior Associate, Crossland Employment Solicitors.

But there are some exceptions.

“This type of leave is intended only for emergencies in relation to children and adults they have caring responsibilities for, not for events which were planned. So for example, school inset days which are pre-planned and notified to parents would not qualify but unexpected closure due to heavy snow would qualify,” Maria adds. 

“It’s duration is not specified legally but is normally limited as it’s supposed to be just for time to deal with the emergency or time to arrange childcare.”

So if you get the call to say school’s out for winter, what should you do?

First things first, you need to let your employer know quick smart what’s happened and how long you think you might need off.

“If employees think they need time off under this policy, it’s sensible to inform your employer as soon as possible,” advises Maria. “The employer should authorise the time off. An exception might be where an employee is using it for something which has been planned in advance e.g to take a child for vaccinations.”

Some parents may also choose to bring their children into work with them.

“There is no entitlement to bring a child into the workplace but this may be necessary for a short period if an employee needs to collect a laptop so they can carry out any urgent work from home during the leave period,” Maria explains. 

And what about employees without children who struggle to make it into work because of the snow?

“An employee who does not come to work because of bad weather is not automatically entitled to be paid, if the workplace is still open – the employee can ask to take it as paid holiday or their employer can give notice to them to take it as holiday under the Working Time Regulations,” says Beverley.

“So, if heavy snow is forecast for say a Friday then an employer must tell an employee on Tuesday to take the Friday as holiday as they must give as a minimum twice as much notice as the length of the holiday – although the contract may provide for more notice.

“Even if their contract contains ‘lay off’ provisions, the employee would still be entitled to a statutory  guarantee payment.

“But, employers should also think carefully before insisting that employees make treacherous journeys to work and risk hurting themselves and others in the process, if it is not critical,” she adds. 

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