Amid reports that 2019 may be the coldest winter in the UK for decades, and the mercury already falling, we look at potential employment issues arising from the cold.
As with hot weather in the summer, rumours often abound regarding a minimum workplace temperature under which workers cannot be required to work and should be sent home. But what are the rules on cold temperatures in the workplace?
As with warm temperatures, the law does not specify a minimum temperature. Health and safety legislation provides that the temperature in the workplace must be ‘reasonable’, which will depend very much on the circumstances. The Health and Safety Executive recommends a minimum temperature of 16 Celsius, or 13 Celsius if the work is of a rigorous physical nature. This is a fairly low indoor temperature so it would be unusual in most offices and places of work for the temperature to drop below this level. However, there is no obligation to send employees home or to close the workplace if it does: only to reasonably consider health and safety. Consideration might be given to implementing temporary measures, such as allowing staff to wear warmer clothes outside of the usual uniform policy, or providing temporary heaters if the heating system is broken.
The other obvious implication of winter weather is the transport disruption and adverse conditions which raise a number of issues, including:
- 1. Employees needing time off for childcare where schools are closed. Employees have a statutory right to time off for dependents in emergency situations where they need to make arrangements for care. Schools being closed due to adverse weather is the type of situation covered by the statutory right, so employees should not be penalised for taking such time off. However, there is no right to be paid for this time off, so whether the employee receives pay will be at the discretion of the employer and based on policy if there is one in place. It should be noted that this right applies to all dependents and not just children, so may also cover, for example, elderly parents who are dependent on employees.
- 2. Closure of the workplace/employees being unable to get work. This is a particularly tricky issue, as there are a number of points to consider in respect of which there is no certain position set out in law. For example, should employees be paid if they cannot get to work? If they do not come to work should they be required to take annual leave? Will this damage staff morale or cause tensions where some employees have attended and others have not? In February 2019, there was much publicised criticism of some companies who did not pay workers when they did not travel to work in conditions where a red weather warning was in place and the police advice was not to travel. Generally in these types of circumstances a flexible approach is advised. ACAS have produced a guide covering many travel disruption related issues. It is also advisable to have a policy in place to cover the arrangements which will be applied during adverse weather.