Snow Day! Fun for kids, working parents and employers, not so much

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Many working parents around the lower mainland woke to their alarms today ready for the usual routine – get yourself ready for work, get kids ready for school, and get everyone out the door. As a mom of three, this was my morning plan. But then… snow day! Schools are closed (insert joyful cheering children)! This is a great day for kids, but for working parents and the businesses that employ them, it is a huge headache. As an employment lawyer, here are some questions that I get about missing work on snow days.

Can working parents be disciplined for missing work where there is a late notice snow day?

Parents are legally obligated to care for their children, or arrange for alternate supervision. If your child is a kindergartner, leaving them home alone while you are at work is not an option. If a working parent has had short notice of a school closure, and can’t find alternative childcare, it would be very hard for an employer to justify discipline. I always try to stand in the shoes of a judge when considering these questions, and I don’t think a judge would find discipline appropriate.

Another key consideration is the BC Employment Standards Act, which requires employers to provide forFamily Responsibility Leave of up to 5 days per year, for situations that can include the care of a child. This does not require an employer to pay, but the leave must be provided.

There are always exceptions where discipline could still result, for example where the employee has a longstanding pattern of absenteeism issues, or does not follow employer policies to call in and notify of an absence.

Employees who are disciplined for reasons arising from their childcare obligations could also have an argument that this was in breach of the BC Human Rights Code. One of the protected grounds under theHuman Rights Code is “family status.” While the law in BC has interpreted family status narrowly when it comes to childcare obligations, it is ripe for challenge based on how the law has developed in other provinces.

Do employers have to pay employees who can’t make it to work because of school closures?

The essence of employment is work in exchange for pay, so in general, no. The clearest example is an hourly paid employee. If you don’t work the shift, you don’t get paid. Some employers might let employees use vacation or sick bank, or make the time up, but that is not legally required.

I have advised a few very progressive employers lately who offer their employees a set number of paid “personal days” to use each year. These are for personal emergencies, such as late notice school closures. Employers are not legally required to provide personal days, but it is a great benefit to offer to attract and retain good workers.

Flexibility is Key

In my view, flexibility is needed by all when mother nature intervenes. Employers can be flexible by allowing employees to work from home (if possible given their role), or make up the time. Employees can be flexible by doing their best to make childcare arrangements, offering to work from home, or shifting their hours.

And when all else fails, go sledding!!


Sara Forte is an employment lawyer, and has practiced exclusively in the areas of employment/labour law, and workplace human rights since 2004. Solving work-related legal problems is all that she does, from hiring to firing, and everything in between. You can follow her blog here

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