Snow days – your employee and travel rights

Winter has now properly arrived, with heavy snowfall and plunging temperatures across the country, which has lead to widespread travel disruption, including flight cancellations, train delays and closed roads, as well as school closures. To help, we've answered some of your most common questions on your rights when it snows.

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Getting to work in the snow

If I can't get to work because of the snow, will my pay be docked?

Let's get the bad news out of the way first – if your workplace is open and you can't get in, your employer DOESN'T necessarily have to pay you, according to workplace relations body the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (Acas). So you may be forced to take unpaid leave.

If you're unable to get to work, the best thing is try to come to an alternative agreement with your employer, such as working from home or changing your hours. It's also worth checking if your employer has an 'adverse weather' policy, which could grant you the right to paid leave, or to discretionary payments for travel disruption.

The best course of action is to check what your employer's policy is and, where possible, plan ahead.

Will I get paid if my work is shut?

If your employer has to close its premises and you don't usually or can't work from home, your pay shouldn't be docked.

On the other hand, you might be asked to work from different premises or from home.

Do I have to walk to work in the snow?

It all depends on what's reasonable. If you usually drive but can't use your car in the snow and you are able to walk to work relatively easily, you might want to do this instead. Remember, your employer doesn't necessarily have to pay you if you can't make it in.

If you live far away or walking could be treacherous, your employer can't make you come in. But because you may not get paid if you don't turn up, it's worth speaking to them and trying to come with an alternative arrangement that works for all parties.

Will I have to take it as holiday if I can't get to work?

That's a possibility, but only if you're given enough warning – so in practice this will only apply if extreme weather causes major disruption that's expected to last several days.

The first thing to check is your employment contract to see whether any rule about this has been put in place.

If not and you can't get to work because of disruption, as a general rule of thumb your employer can ask you to take time off as holiday – but the Government says it has to give you notice of this at least twice as long as the time it wants you to take off. So, for example, if it wanted you to take a day as holiday, you'd need two days' notice of it.

Childcare and school closures

What if my child's school is shut?

If your child's school is closed or your normal childcare arrangements are disrupted due to the snow, you may have the right to time off to look after your child – this should be agreed with your employer, according to Government advice.

ACAS says in an emergency situation you can take unpaid leave to look after your child, and extreme weather may qualify as such as situation. It the law doesn't specify how much unpaid leave can be taken,  but that it should be a "reasonable" amount and that employers should try to be flexible.

Again, plan ahead where possible by checking what your employer's policy is, and what help is available if and when these situations arise.

Travel rights

My train has been delayed or cancelled. What are my rights?

Here are the main rules:

  • Can I get on another train? You should be able to get on the next train available or take a different route, but it's important to check with station staff to be safe, as there may be some exceptions, especially if the next available train or the alternative route is run by a different firm than the one you original ticket was for.

  • I don't want to travel because of a delay. Can I get a refund? Usually the answer's yes, though it's more complex if you have a season ticket (for more on this, see Season ticket claims).

  • I arrived at my destination late - can I get compensation? The rules are not universal for all train firms, but in most cases you can claim for a delay of 15+ minutes (and in one case 2+ minutes), regardless of the reason. You can get at 25% to 100% of your fare back, depending on the length of the delay and the firm you're travelling with.

For lots more info, including how to claim and the rules if you miss a connection, see our Train delays guide.

What if I missed a flight because of a delay?

The National Rail Conditions of Travel say that trains firms generally only refund up to the cost of your ticket if there's disruption, but in "exceptional circumstances" they will consider claims for other losses – for example, if you've missed a flight, had to get a taxi or pay for a hotel.

So you can try and claim from the train company, though you will need to provide as much evidence as possible, including that you set off in plenty of time to get to the airport. For more info on your rights and how to make a claim, see our Train delays guide. 

Alternatively, if train delays or traffic causes you to miss a flight, you may be able to get compensation from your travel insurance provider, though check first as different firms will have different rules. You will need to show you allowed a reasonable amount of time for your journey to meet the flight.

The Association of British Insurers says: "Some travel insurance policies may offer some cover for missed flights due to your journey to the airport being disrupted in certain circumstances, so check your travel policy."

For full info on how to make a travel insurance claim, see our Cheap travel insurance guide.

My flight has been delayed or cancelled. What are my rights?

Under EU flight delay law, which has been written into UK law, you have rights if your flight is delayed. For these rules to apply the flight must have departed from the UK, or arrived in the UK via an EU or UK airline, or arrived in the UK via a UK airline. Under this law, EU airports also include those in Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland.

When a flight is cancelled, however long before it was due to take off, and regardless of the cause, under EU rule 261/2004 you have a right to choose between:

  • A full refund. This includes money back for both legs if you have booked a return ticket and either of your legs are cancelled.

  • An alternative flight. If you still want to travel, your airline must find an alternative flight to your destination. Depending on the passenger's preference, this has to be a) at the earliest opportunity, or b) at the passenger's leisure, subject to the availability of seats.

If you choose to be re-routed or if your departure is delayed by more than two hours, airlines also have to provide assistance such as food and drink, phone calls and accommodation where appropriate to passengers, regardless of what caused the cancellation.

Under the rule it's often possible to claim additional compensation of up to £520 per person for delayed or cancelled flights. However, this only applies when the delay or cancellation is due to something within the airline's control  – which obviously wouldn't usually include bad weather.

As a result, you're unlikely to be able to claim compensation on top of your refund or alternative flight, though there are a few cases where you may wish to pursue a claim, for example if the snow was widely foreseeable and predicted, such as at an airport near a ski resort. See our Flight delays and Flight cancellations guides for full info.

I can't use a hotel or car hire booking as I can't get to my destination. What are my rights?

First check if it's refundable, in which case contact the provider to get your money back.

If not, this is where travel insurance comes in, though there's no 'one-size-fits-all' answer as each travel insurance policy is different, so check with your insurer. For full info, see our What about hotel, car hire and other costs? help.

What if I need to drive somewhere?

Make sure you check travel advice for where you are before you get behind the wheel, and then plan your route accordingly, giving yourself plenty of time to make the journey. The Traffic England, Traffic ScotlandTraffic Wales and TrafficWatchNI websites are a good place to start.

Ideally if bad weather is forecast you'll avoid travelling, but if you have to travel it's always wise to ensure your car is fully prepared for winter, such as checking you've at least a 3mm of tread on your tyres and stocking up on anti-freeze. For more info, see our Motoring MoneySaving guide.

It's also worth making sure you have the breakdown cover you need, in case the worst should happen. For full info and our top picks, see our Cheap breakdown cover guide.

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