Snow has a big impact on our staffing levels. Can staff take time off to care for their children because of school closures?

There is a statutory right for an employee to take reasonable time off when it is necessary to deal with the unexpected disruption, termination or breakdown of arrangements for the care of a dependant. However, what is ‘reasonable time off’ and ‘necessary’ has been the subject of some discussion in employment tribunals, so each case tends to be decided on its own facts.

Ray Silverstein, head of the London employment team at law firm Browne Jacobson LLP, believes this could cover unexpected school closures: “It is certainly arguable that a school cares for the child throughout the day and if the school is closed, another form of care would have to be arranged. However, there is no obligation to pay an employee for days taken off in this way unless it is expressly stated in the employment contract.”

Another option for employees is to take ‘parental leave’. Again this is unpaid and must be taken in one-week blocks unless the employee’s contract says otherwise. An employee must give reasonable notice of their intention to take such leave but this may not be possible for emergency school closures. There is no requirement for it to be necessary to take time off, as long as leave is taken to care for a child.

Silverstein adds: “Whatever course of action is decided upon it is important that a retailer treats employees consistently and fairly, but remains flexible in special cases.” It is crucial that employees are warned well in advance of the rules that will apply should anyone be unable to attend work due to weather. “The employment contract is the best place to do this as no one can argue that they were not informed,” he says.