By Claire West
Thousands of businesses could find their past generosity come back to haunt them this winter as the country prepares for another season of snow and disruption.
Many bosses across the country took a lenient view on staff who couldn't make it into the office after what was billed as the worst snow for 50 years left schools, airports and motorways closed and bus and train services severely disrupted.
Now businesses waking up to more snow this winter may find they rue their past generosity as staff use precedents to claim paid leave in extreme weather, according to employment law experts.
Peter Mooney, of business compliance specialist ELAS, said: "The law is very simple when it comes to the weather: if you don't turn up to work and you're not ill, you have no right to be paid.
"Earlier this year, however, most employers took a more balanced view and said that providing staff had made a genuine attempt to make it into work, and could not work from home, they were allowed the time off on full pay.
"Unfortunately, in doing so, they have set themselves a precedent which they will need to follow unless they amend their contracts to incorporate a new and more stringent bad weather policy."
Scotland and parts of the North East are currently experiencing the worst November snow in 17 years, with heavy snowfall forecast for much of the rest of the UK later today (Tues) and overnight.
With January and February - which usually bring the worst winter weather in the UK - still to come, Britain could be facing months more disruption.
Despite having no legal right to pay if they cannot make it in, staff who can prove they tried everything possible to do so and can highlight a lenient approach in the past, could bring a case through the courts for unlawful deduction of wages.
If so, the legal costs alone could outweigh the benefits of withholding pay, Mr Mooney warned.
He added: "This might sound like a minor concern when people are facing severe personal difficulties because of the weather, but days without work means businesses without money to pay staff, suppliers and so on.
"Of course, the smaller the business, the more acute the problem is. Given the current economic climate as well, difficulties like this can be the difference between making ends meet and laying people off.
"We know the cold snap in January and February cost the UK billions and it is possible that a second winter of snow and disruption could be worse.
"It is only November and our phones have been ringing red hot with calls from businesses worried about not only dealing with the current snow, but also the fact that a second harsh winter could push them over the edge."
ELAS looks after the business compliance needs of thousands of small and medium sized businesses across the UK. For further advice, or to arrange an appointment with one of its consultants, call 0161 785 2000.
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