Too cold to work?

Following the recent chilly weather, Laura Claridge looks at some common weather and work questions.

Is there a minimum working temperature?

Government guidance suggests a minimum temperature of 16°C or 13°C if employees are doing physical work. 

To comply with health and safety law, working temperature must be at a comfortable level and air should be clean and fresh. 

Employers have an implied duty to provide a suitable working environment, and this will include the temperature.  In a 1980 case, it was found to be a breach of duty to require a workshop employee to work in temperatures of 9 °C in winter.

What about a maximum operating temperature?

In short, no.  Generally, during working hours, the temperature in indoor workplaces must be reasonable and the same principles apply as for cold weather. 

If an employee raises a concern about temperature, employers should listen to investigate whether action needs to be taken.  In particular, employers will need to take into account complaints from any staff who are more likely to struggle in the heat due to health issues. 

Do we need an adverse weather policy?

It is a good idea.  Or if there is no formal written policy, then at the least it is important to make sure that employees are aware of business expectations if they are unable to attend work due to extreme weather.  This should be consistent across departments and it is a good idea to communicate this to staff in advance of any expected ill weather. 

There is no general right to be paid if an employee cannot get into work, but sometimes there will be an implied contractual right, for example if an employer has always paid in these circumstances in the past.

For working parents or those with caring responsibilities, there is as a minimum the statutory right to unpaid time off to look after dependents if there is a sudden break down in childcare or caring arrangements.  Generally this will be no more than a day or at most two, as it is designed to cover the period until the employee has time to put alternative childcare/caring arrangements in place.

As a minimum, employees need to understand that they are required to make every attempt to attend and what will happen if they cannot attend.  For example, can they work from home?  Do they need to make up the time?  Will it come out of annual leave entitlement? And so on. 

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