VANCOUVER -- Parents who have to stay at home with their kids on a snow day have the right to not go to work, and don't need to get permission from their employer, according to one expert.

"In British Columbia, you have up to five unpaid days for family responsibility leave," Debby Carreau, CEO of Inspired HR, told CTV Morning Live.

Under B.C. employment law, employees can use those days to cover situations like child care, elder care or education needs. Family responsibility leave is available to both unionized and non-unionized workers.

On Tuesday, kids across Metro Vancouver were thrilled to learn all schools were closed because of a heavy snowfall that snarled traffic and public transit across the region. Many daycares were also closed.

For parents scrambling to cover their responsibilities as both caregivers and employees, Carreau's advice is to exercise that right.

"I would absolutely encourage people to take one of those five days," she said, adding that workers need to know that if they take less than a full day off, it will still count as one of the five days.

"So you can't actually take 40 hours on 40 different days: it's just five incidents."

The days also cannot be carried over to the next year.

For workers who don't have kids, but still faced a nightmare commute, Carreau said employees don't have the right to take the day off without permission. But both employers and employees need to make decisions based on health and safety.

"You need to be a little bit realistic," she said.

"If you can't get physically out of your driveway, or a road is closed, or if a bus simply isn't running and you have no alternative, you've got to call them and just say listen, 'I can't safely get to work, can I work from home or make up the day another day, or can I take a vacation day?'

"There are lots of different options there."

In the case where workers are feeling pressure to come into work – maybe there's a "tough guy" culture in the workplace, or a co-worker more used to driving in winter conditions who makes disparaging remarks about others' reluctance – Carreau said that could amount to bullying if it's severe enough.

"You wouldn't want to pressure someone into doing something that's unsafe," Carreau said. "It's no different than persuading someone to climb a dangerous ladder. If that is an issue, the manager needs to talk to people, because that's just not OK."

Even though snow doesn't fall very often on B.C.'s south coast, every year or two years there is a heavy-enough snowfall that impacts travel. If your workplace doesn't already have a clear policy in place about what's expected of everyone when that happens, now is the time to push your manager or human resources department to create one, Carreau advised.

"Because it's not an 'if,' it's a 'when,'" Carreau said, "and you want to know, the next time there's a snow day, what to do."


This article has been corrected to say that family responsibility leave is part of B.C. employment law. An previous version incorrectly used the term "labour laws."