Docking pay on snow-day – is it legal?

As the temperature drops and the big chill kicks in, HRM got the legal low-down on how HR should handle snow-days.

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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