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Is it ever too cold to work?

31 January 2019

With temperatures across the UK plummeting and forecasters suggesting colder weather is on the way, many workplaces have become far colder than usual this week and inevitably the question of how cold does a workplace need to be before workers should be sent home has cropped up.

Many people are surprised to learn that although health and safety regulations require employers to keep warmth levels ‘reasonable’, there is no law outlining the maximum or minimum temperatures that an office environment should exceed. It is recommended that a workplace temperature be at least 16C, or 13C if the job involves manual labour, but there is no legal requirement to meet these exact numbers.

That said, being cold at work will undoubtedly impact staff morale and productivity, and potentially increase the risk of errors being made, so a good employer should take time to consider the particular circumstances of their workplace in order to decide what a comfortable temperature is. This can be done through risk assessments and by listening to employees’ feedback.  It is also important to remember that employers have a duty of care to their staff, so if everyone is shivering, they are required to take some steps to alleviate the cold. This could be a provision of extra heating, more hot drinks, allowing a more relaxed dress code or flexible working patterns to reduce the impact of the cold.

And what if the wintry weather makes it difficult for employees to get to work safely? Are employees entitled to a snow day? The short answer is no but again an employer has a duty to take reasonable care of its staff and businesses could face claims if the threat of disciplinary action for failing to get to work impacts on the safety of employees.

Many employers will have a bad weather policy making it clear to employees what will happen if they can’t make it in, but in the absence of any such policy a common-sense approach is key to ensuring balance between employee safety and the employer’s expectation that you make every effort to get into work even if it takes you longer than usual. Generally, there are always amicable solutions, such as the use of unpaid or annual leave, or flexible working arrangements such as working from home. Bad weather nearly always forecasts so most problems can be pre-empted through clear communication about what an employer’s expectations are – so long as these are reasonable, most issues can be avoided.

Matthew Clayton heads up our Legal 500-rated employment team. He handles the full range of contentious and non-contentious employment law issues for a client base which includes multi-national companies, owner-managed businesses and not-for-profit organisations. His particular specialisms include complex staff restructurings and employment issues concerning business transfers. He is a member of the Employment Lawyers’ Association and a GL Ambassador for GFirst LEP.  A Cambridge graduate, Matthew trained and worked at a City of London law firm, qualifying as a solicitor in 1996. Prior to joining Willans, Matthew led the employment team at a regional firm.

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Matthew Clayton MA LLM (Cantab), CIPP/E
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