Docking pay on a snow-day – is it legal?

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It wouldn’t be a real Canadian winter without a super-storm or two and, at some point over the season, it’s very likely you’ll have to call a snow day – but how clued up are you on what you can and can’t do?HRM asked one employment lawyer’s advice.

Do you have an obligation to pay? 

Missing a day at work due to the weather is completely out of your employees’ control – but does that mean you have to pay them?

In a nutshell – no.

“You’re not entitled to be paid for time you don’t work,” Richard Johnson, of Kent Employment law, told HRM. So, if your workers don’t make it into the office, employers are perfectly within their rights to withhold a day’s pay.

“It’s similar to sick leave,” explains Johnson. “An employer doesn’t have an obligation to pay for time off – for sickness or for snow days – unless there’s a contractual obligation or policy for doing so.”

Of course employers should be prepared for the possibility of a snow-day and accommodate the time off, said Johnson, but “employees should not expect to be paid for time they’re not working.”

However, Johnson said things can become a little trickier when kids come into play.

Family obligation

“If the employee has family obligations and their kids have to stay home then that can fall into human rights legislation,” he said. “Employers can’t discriminate based on family obligation.”

So even if your employee is more than able – and willing – to come into work, if their child’s school is out for snow day then employers have to respect that obligation.

“Presuming the employee has done everything they can to make other arrangements – the employer has to understand that they have an obligation,” says Johnson.

Can you ask employees to make the time up?

“Typically not,” says Johnson.  “[Employers] have a right to make reasonable request for overtime but you can’t, under normal circumstance, give an employee time off then require them to make it up.”

Advice for employers 

“From an employer’s point of view, you certainly won’t run into any trouble by erring on the side of caution,” said Johnson.  “In the event that one or two snow days arise, it’s a much safer route than not allowing an employee to take snow days and ending up in a battle over lost wages or potential constructive dismissals.”

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  • Tim Baker on 2016-03-08 4:11:27 PM

    Interesting post and topic, that's for sure.

    Once again, we're stuck in the old ways of aligning work with "time" instead of "results". Work is something we do, and not a place we go (in most cases). I believe that employers have a responsibility to make it possible for people to work from anywhere. Whether you call it a "contingency plan" for weather-related situations, such as snow days. Or perhaps it's just a great culture that realizes that people can still deliver the results for which they were hired, regardless of time frames and physical locations.

    A great example is the snow storm that hit Ottawa pretty hard a couple weeks ago. A news photo showed dozens of people waiting for transit to take them to work. Their commute to work was 2 hours or so, then they were allowed to leave work early due to the weather. What a complete waste of productivity. Had they just stayed home and continued with their work responsibilities, they would have been way more productive and less stressed.

    Finally, an employer "legally" doesn't have to pay someone that can't come into work, due to weather or other urgent situations that come up. That is true. Buy why wouldn't they? It shows the person is valued and shows empathy for the many personal situations that arise. Again, it goes back to the real reason a person is being compensated: results...not time.

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