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Should you lose pay when snow keeps you from work?

Snow day off for everyone

While life goes on in Canada and Siberia under drifts, Britain has been crippled by snow. Again.

London is cloaked by a smog of emissions and the hot air of millions of rat-racers, so the snow hasn’t got a hope of sticking – the view from my window is of a metropolis sprinkled with dandruff, not of gridlock.

But with many major roads blocked in the suburbs and trains marooned, lots of commuters have heeded police warnings not to travel to work due to snow. And with over 30% of schools closed, many who could dig their way to their office are instead watching Teletubbies and making snowmen with their kids.

So far, so no big deal. We don’t get snow often, so we shouldn’t spend billions on snowmobiles and fleets of gritters. And those ‘snow costs billions to the UK economy’ figures are always spurious, since they don’t consider the tangible benefit to millions of a day spent free from office politics!

What is shocking though is that some employers are docking pay if staff can’t get to work, or encouraging them to take the day off as holiday.

Not only is it against most contracts of employment, it’s also against the Blitz spirit that business relies on at these times.

Check your employment contract if snow keeps you at home

Most full-time workers will find their employer has no right to dock their pay or their holidays if they legitimately can’t make it into work.

A few high fliers or specialists may have particular clauses for such circumstances, but even then their contracts are more likely to vaguely speak about determining when they can take holidays, not docking a day at the whims of the weather gods.

Temporary workers hit by snow aren’t so lucky. Since you’re paid by the hour, if you can’t show up to put those hours in, the employer doesn’t have to pay you.

Work from home, or another day

Contract law doesn’t mean employees should allow their employer to suffer unduly.

I’m the first to say you shouldn’t let your job rule your life, but equally the best employment for both parties involves mutual respect.

Many jobs – perhaps most, in the case of  Monevator readers – can now be done from home, especially for one day. Smart companies will already have systems to allow for flexible remote working.

Even if you can’t do your usual front line work, you can probably make telephone calls, clear out your emails, or do other paperwork or research.

Or why not spend a few hours thinking about how to achieve the most you can in your job in 2010?

Employees and employers alike put too little focus on career advancement, or truly effective working. Think hard and type up some thoughts, and you could return to work more useful than ever. Proving you’re vital to your boss will also help safeguard your salary while unemployment is still rising.

If it comes to the worst and your boss forces a hard line, see if you can arrange to work on another day rather than losing the flexibility of a true day off.

If I had a full-time job (I’m a freelance), I’d rather work a couple of Saturday mornings than lose one of those precious 20-odd days off a year*.

What if you are the boss?

I know at least a few small business owners read Monevator, and no doubt managers from bigger companies do, too.

As is clear, I believe a Draconian response to employees who are unable to get to work is poor form, and will ultimately backfire. Be aware too of the very real dangers of forcing employees to come to work when conditions are dangerous.

Consider what steps you can take to enable more employees to work from home next time, and also read this severe weather model policy from The Federation of Small Business.

Smaller firms always suffer the most from any disruption, but they also rely on their staff going that extra mile – pulling together is part of the excitement of a small company.

Personally, if I was running a small business again and only a quarter of my staff made it in due to snow, I’d encourage those who did to cover for the others, and then end the day early for drinks on the house in the nearest pub!

*Apologies to my American readers for whom a dream 20 days paid leave a year sounds like European socialism run wild!

{ 12 comments… add one }
  • 1 George January 6, 2010, 10:23 pm

    I think if the employer docks pay because the employee couldn’t get to work, then it’s time for the employee to start looking for a new job. We can’t control what our employer does (especially if they mistreat their employees), but we can control where we work. Sounds like a great time to find a better job, or start a new business.

  • 2 Doctor Stock January 7, 2010, 5:41 am

    If employees were a little more honest with their days off, this wouldn’t be an issue likely.

  • 3 Financial Samurai January 7, 2010, 7:38 am

    I tell ya, if American companies would provide MORE furlough days off, I’m sure a huge number of people will volunteer.

    I would definitely consider a 20% pay cut in 8 years, if I only had to work 4 days a week, AND had 20% less stuff to do.

    3 day weekends every week for life would be SWEET!

  • 4 The Investor January 7, 2010, 9:48 am

    I know a company where staff work four days a week but are paid for five, by design. I’ll let you know if any vacancies come up! 🙂

  • 5 Matt S. January 7, 2010, 3:30 pm

    Most jobs can be done at home, or anywhere in the world.
    Insisting an employee is at a job site is really about control, not about productivity. Appearance over performance.
    These shackles of the 19th and 20th century company man attitudes are actually holding back productivity.

  • 6 The Investor January 7, 2010, 3:46 pm

    I agree. When I first went freelance in my industry a decade ago I initially got so much done I thought my income was going to double or triple out of sheer productivity…

    It didn’t (through output alone) because you discover your own ways to take the edge of your performance, without the help of your boss, but at least it’s more fun to choose your own poison!

  • 7 Len Penzo January 8, 2010, 1:06 am

    I guess my answer is simple, but not in the spirit of your post, Investor. It all depends on how the contract is written. If the contract doesn’t make an allowance for such a situation, then the employee really doesn’t have much of a leg to stand on. That’s not to say that’s what I would do, assuming my business was making a profit – I would eat the day’s pay, assuming it didn’t decimate my bottom line.

    To explore this further though, if I was a business owner and I lived in an area frequented by snow, I would most likely permit a set number of “snow days” per year, and budget my resources accordingly.

    I think that would be an equitable solution for all parties.


    Len Penzo dot Com

  • 8 The Investor January 8, 2010, 1:51 pm

    @Len – But what if there’s say two weeks of terrible snow, and you’ve allocated say five days of snow days. Are you saying there’s no moral reason why the business should pay the price, as opposed to the employees? (A perfectly logical position I guess). Or should employees move closer to work? (I don’t mean that sarcastically, genuine question).

    I’m usually all for self-reliance – one of many reasons I first went self-employed is I was tired of supporting office malingerers with their endless days off – but if someone physically cannot get to work, it clearly isn’t their fault. Then again, it’s not the business’ fault, either.

  • 9 Len Penzo January 8, 2010, 3:58 pm

    As you well know, unlike the government, businesses don’t have the luxury of being able to print money. That, to me, acts as a forcing function for this argument.

    If there are two weeks of terrible snow, I just do not see how a business can reasonably be expected to shoulder the burden of covering its payroll with nothing in return from its workforce (unless they have budgeted for that ahead of time).

  • 10 The Investor January 8, 2010, 4:11 pm

    I think you’ve convinced me. A few days of freak weather and businesses should cover it / catch up and make good. Two weeks (say) and it’s a national issue for citizens / Governments.

  • 11 Len Penzo January 8, 2010, 6:06 pm

    Ha! That’s the first time I think I’ve convinced anybody of anything…

    Thanks for a good start to my weekend, Investor! LOL 🙂

  • 12 Nestor Hayden June 17, 2010, 1:50 pm

    IMO, work from home is gonna become more and more popular. But that is amazing how employers are docking pay. Can’t just control the weather. Can you? I’ll get to work!


    .-= Nestor Hayden on: Legitimate Work at Home Jobs – Are They Really Out There? =-.

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