Employers do not have to pay you if you miss work because of Ophelia

Most large supermarket chains have closed with many other employees working from home

Dozens of pedestrians ignored hurricane Ophelia warnings and ventured out for walks on Galway's promenade. Video: Bryan O'Brien

 

Most supermarket chains and large stores have closed or are planning to close today due to storm Ophelia while many other employers have advised staff to stay at home.

Lidl, Debenhams, Dunnes Stores, Penneys, Marks and Spencer and some Supervalu stores will close or have closed for the day. Dunnes Stores has advised all staff that they will be paid for the day.

As it stands most Aldi stores will remain open for the day. Tesco has closed shops in Cork, Kerry, Clare, Limerick, South Tipperary, Waterford, Wexford, Galway, Mayo, Leitrim, Roscommon, Sligo and Donegal and has cancelled its home delivery service in those areas.

Mandate Trade Union which represents retail and administrative has called on all employers to close for the day “to protect the health and safety of their staff.”

The Union said the storm “presents a very real threat and it would be entirely irresponsible of employers to operate as normal.”

Assistant General Secretary Gerry Light said he wanted to remind employers “of their specific duty of care obligations to employees and would ask to place these ahead of any other considerations.

“We would also like to recognise and commend those employers who have already taken definitive action by deciding that businesses will close for the duration of the red warning weather alert.”

Impact and other public sector unions have also urged all non-essential State employees to stay home. Most non-emergency public services remained closed today.

The employers’ group Ibec said, given the red status weather warning, it “encourages all businesses to minimise the movement of employees” on Monday, adding “safety should be of the utmost priority”.

Employers around the country have taken varying approaches to the storm with most in the west and south west opting to close or have their staff work from home.

In Dublin large employers such as Facebook and Google told their employees last night they could work from home. Other businesses and offices opened for the morning before closing ahead of the storm hitting the city at around 1pm.

Luas Services ceased at midday and Dublin Bus services will not resume until 7pm leaving some staff worried they will be stranded in the city having come into work for the morning.

“I’ve no idea how I’m going to get home. I was planning on going to the library for a while but that’s closed too. I’ll have to get a taxi or wait for the buses to start again,” said Lucy Walsh who works in a café in Dublin city centre.

According to employment law experts, an employer has no legal obligation to pay staff if they don’t come to work, even if they are physically unable to make the journey.

“It’s come up before when we had the big snow [IN 2010]. The general thinking is if you’ve half a brain as an employer you’ll accommodate employees. But it doesn’t follow that you’ve an obligation,” senior counsel and employment law specialist Marguerite Bolger said.

This is also true if the employer closes their business for the day due to the hurricane or if employees have to stay home to mind their children because the schools are closed.

“At the end of the day, if you don’t turn up for work there is no obligation on an employer to pay you,” Ms Bolger said.

“There’s no provision in law for extreme weather. In that, it’s like sick pay. It’s all pursuant to the contract you have with your employer.”

This is also the case if an employee physically can’t get to work due to, for example, a flooded road or cancelled bus service, said Richard Grogan, an employment law solicitor.

“If the road from town is two feet under water and there is no way of getting the work, the law states the employer has no obligation,” he said.

“The better employers will have a policy in place to cover inclement weather events. That’s just good business sense. But there is no requirement.”

It could also be open to employers to discipline or even fire staff if they feel the employee was able to attend work despite the storm but this would be difficult, Ms Bolger said.

“It entirely depends on the individual circumstances. You can only be dismissed after you’ve had a disciplinary procedure. You’d be entitled, within that procedure, to put in evidence of the weather warnings from Met Éireann”.

If are an employee was fired nonetheless, they would have a strong case to bring to the Workplace Relations Commission, she said.

“As long as the person had a reasonable belief it was unsafe to travel it’s very hard to see how their dismissal could ever stand up.

M Grogan also advised that “once the danger is gone employees are expected to get into work if possible.

“Just because you can’t get in at 9am doesn’t mean you have the day off. You might be able to travel at noon. It’s up to the employee to come up when they can.”