The snow & your nursery

If you experience heavy snow, we have come up with these key tips to help you.

The tips are separated into:

  • Outside your setting
  • Inside the nursery
  • What to do if staff can’t get into work

Snow & Ice outside your setting

Over a number of years, we have managed claims relating to either employees or parents slipping on icy paths. Everyone is aware that poor weather conditions will arrive at some stage, therefore, a nursery has a duty to assess and manage this foreseeable risk. Following an accident the nursery insurer’s decision regarding whether the nursery is liable revolves around the quality of documentation available after the event.

As always, it is best to prepare policies and procedures in advance which include completion of risk assessments. Areas to consider are:

  • Snow and ice can descend unexpectedly overnight and you need to have decided what must happen when the first person arrives on site. Pathways can be gritted if it is safe to do so but a procedure must be in place that everyone understands. Sometimes, it is impractical to remove snow and ice from every path and road, so identify and address the essential routes. These need to be communicated to visitors and staff by way of signs and barriers.
  • The outdoor play areas need to be assessed on a daily basis to take into account the change in weather conditions.
  • Staff must be advised to wear suitable footwear and although this may seem obvious, we can assure you that claims have been won or lost because of the type of shoes an employee decided to wear.

Inside your setting

Sometimes heating fails to work or can be inadequate, so if you need to use additional heaters remember they carry risks of injury or fire. Fire risks can be managed by making sure that portable heaters are never switched on and then left unattended whilst the nursery is closed. Care must be taken to ensure that no radiator or exposed pipework with a surface temperature exceeding 43°C can be touched by a child. Don’t forget you need to review your risk assessments regarding any temporary changes.

Internal areas can also become slippery as ice and snow are walked into the building. Non-slip mats and parental provision of indoor and outdoor footwear for the children offer solutions to you.  However, if pools of water form then these need to be cordoned off or removed at regular intervals.

Heating pipes can freeze during periods of falling temperatures.  In this situation, problems occur during the thaw when the damaged pipes burst allowing water to escape. Although the insulation of your pipes will help protect them, programming your heating to automatically turn on if the temperature falls too much is a sensible precaution. Another option is to leave the heating on at a constant low temperature whilst the nursery is closed.

Employees & snow

Below HR advisors have outlined the key questions and solutions that employers have asked during snowy weather.

I cannot open my nursery, do I have to pay my employees?
This depends if you have a lay off clause in your employees’ documentation. If you do, then you can implement it and place employees on lay off and pay them statutory guarantee pay up to the maximum (which is the number of the employee’s normal working days in one week – subject to a maximum of 5 days – per a rolling 13 weeks). If you don’t, then try to agree it now, though this is likely to be difficult. If lay off with SGP cannot be agreed, employees will be entitled to full pay for each day of no work. Can you send them to another of your workplaces within a reasonable distance which is open? If so, they will be working and so should receive full pay.

I have decided to send employees home because there are fewer children in the setting due to the weather, do I have to pay them for the missed hours if they go early?
If it is your decision to send the employees home, either because you are closing the nursery part way through the day or keeping it open with skeleton staff (maintaining ratios), you would normally still have to pay the employees who go home for the full day. For full days of closure, employees will still be entitled to full pay unless there is provision in the contract of employment allowing for lay off with SGP.

A few of my employees have called to say they cannot get to work because of the snow – do I need to pay them?
You have no obligation to pay employees who cannot get to work because of the snow (unless there is a contractual requirement for this, which will be rare). Consider the following to maintain payment:

  • Agreeing to short notice annual leave
  • Using any banked time off in lieu
  • Agreeing the employee will make the hours up at another time

If none of the above can be arranged, you have no obligation to pay the employee.

Can I make employees take the day as holiday if they can’t make it in?
Employers can make employees take holiday at times when it suits the business but only if certain advance notice requirements are met. To enforce a holiday, employers must give notice that is equal to twice the length of time that the employer wants to be taken off e.g. 2 days’ notice must be given for 1 day’s holiday; 10 days’ notice must be given for 5 days’ holiday.

Typically, the nature of bad weather means that employers could not rely on this provision for a short notice holiday. However, if the employee agrees to the employer’s suggestion to take short or no notice holiday, this is fine.

Do I need to give special treatment to employees who have to stay home to look after their children because schools are closed?
No. Employees who have a sudden breakdown in their childcare arrangements have a right to take time off for dependants (TOD) but this is unpaid. TOD should normally cover one or two days of absence – the right is there to allow employees to make new arrangements for childcare, not to allow them time off to look after their children. Any time past two days should be agreed as annual leave, unpaid leave etc. The two-day limit is NOT set by law but is recommended by ACAS.

You may find useful our ‘how to manage staff at Christmas‘ guide.