Snow days as a kid meant no school, snowball fights with the neighbours, and thawing out with hot chocolate.

Snow days as an adult mean having to wear sensible shoes (I don’t have any), having to wear sensible work clothes (ditto) and trying to defrost my hair after an hour of trudging to the station and back.

Snow days as an employer are a whole different game of snowballs. How do you keep running your business with no or reduced staff but without making unreasonable demands on your team and without letting your clients down. It’s like trying to get down hill without a sledge.

However, COVID has changed a great deal of that. Along with the lockdown has come a whole raft of developments in technology meaning that working from home can now happen at the touch of a button. So, last night, my son very excitedly told me that he’d had a message that school was going to be closed today but by 7 this morning I’d had an email from the school confirming that there was work for him on the system (no rest for the wicked). Also, although only one member of my team made it in to the office, all the others have laptops at home, plus new sophisticated call answering software means that there really is no escape.

But what about those of us who cannot do our jobs remotely. I can’t see too many A&E nurses or doctors being able to take their work home with them. Or those working in retail or hospitality. If you are physically incapable of getting in to work due to circumstances beyond your control (snow, strike or strife!) and you cannot make a latte or stich a wound from home, would your employer have the right to withhold pay and even take disciplinary action against you.

Well the simple answer is, it depends, but possibly yes.

The starting point would be your contract of employment and any staff handbook which would hopefully give some guidance. Unless there is something that says that you can be paid if you are unable to attend work, your employer would be within their rights to dock you a day’s pay or perhaps give you the right to take it as holiday. It is less likely that they would be able to justify any kind of disciplinary, but even that is not impossible. It might still be your responsibility to show what steps you took to try and get in to work, such as taking photographs of the depth of the snow and the distance to any passable roads or keeping details of train disruption. The fact that one of my team, plus myself, my co director and our book keeper did make it in today shows that it is possible, so simply saying “it was snowing” won’t automatically be enough without supporting evidence.

What about if you are the employer – well obviously all of the same points apply, but this is one of those times where, if you don’t have a handbook or any guidance you have doesn’t cover these types of situations, now is the time to put it in place. If you’re sitting at home waiting for the big thaw, use it to start writing down all the things you’d want a handbook to cover. Or, alternatively, reach for another hot toddy, and make yourself a note to call me tomorrow and I’ll help you thaw out any slippery problems.

Kleyman & Co Solicitors. The full service law firm. Come rain or shine, or sleet, or snow, or ice or hurricane or…….