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Is it ever too cold to work?

19 January 2023

With temperatures across the UK having plummeted again and forecasters suggesting colder weather could be on its way, many workplaces have become far colder than usual this week. Inevitably, the question of how cold a workplace needs 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. However, employers should be mindful if they have employees experiencing menopausal symptoms, such as hot flushes, as their temperature requirements may differ to others.

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 cannot make it into work.

However, 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 remote working.

With many businesses introducing hybrid and home working during covid, which remain popular, many employees will be set up to work from home, meaning that fewer employers will be impacted if bad weather prevents staff physically attending an office.

Bad weather is nearly always forecast, 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.

Our team of lawyers are dedicated and approachable. With many years of experience to hand, we’d be delighted to offer our support and guide you through any issues or questions you may have. Please get in touch.

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Our Legal 500-rated employment law team are experts in guiding businesses of all sizes and backgrounds through a range of issues that may arise, including those related to working conditions.

Disclaimer: All legal information is correct at the time of publication but please be aware that laws may change over time. This article contains general legal information but should not be relied upon as legal advice. Please seek professional legal advice about your specific situation - contact us; we’d be delighted to help.
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Matthew Clayton MA LLM (Cantab), CIPP/E
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