Too cold to work?

Your responsibilities as an employer


We are reminding business leaders of their responsibilities when it comes to the working conditions of their people during cold weather spells.

The UK is braced for a cold snap this week with ice expected to cause major travel disruptions and make many workplaces uncomfortable for employees.

With the Met Office predicting temperatures will plummet over the course of the next few days, your employees are almost certain to complain that it’s too cold to work or even be tempted to skip work.

But is it ever too cold to work, and what are your responsibilities as an employer?

Dawn Brown, HR expert at MHR says: “Working in a cold environment can cause employees to become tired as they are using up extra energy in order to keep warm and cause them to lose concentration and focus which can affect their decision making. However, just because it’s cold is no excuse for employees to skip work.

 “Whilst there is no maximum or minimum working temperature set by the Health & Safety Executive, as an employer you are legally obliged to provide a “reasonable” temperature in the workplace, under the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992 depending on the type of work.

“In its Approved Code of Practice it suggests the minimum temperature in a workplace should normally be at least 16°C. If the work involves rigorous physical effort, the temperature should be at least 13°C.  If the temperature falls below this level, you should act and take the relevant steps to help bring the temperature in the office or workplace back up to that temperature, for instance by providing additional heating.

“The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 require employers to make a suitable assessment of the risks to the health and safety of their employees, and take action where necessary and where reasonably practicable. It highlights that the temperature of the workplace is one of the potential hazards that employers should address to meet their legal obligations.

“Giving employees regular breaks, plenty of opportunities to drink a hot drink and reducing their exposure to the cold and draughts are just a few ways you can support your employees when the temperature drops at work. During a prolonged cold spell you could consider introducing flexible working hours, permit employees to work from home or introduce new rotas to help reduce the effects.

“If certain individuals are really struggling to work in the cold you could accommodate their needs by allowing them to leave early and make up the time another day.

“You can also suggest they take time off as annual leave but remember to advise them that this must be taken as part of their entitlement, otherwise it must be taken as unpaid leave.

“Putting in place a clear adverse and cold weather policy, and openly discussing guidelines with employees ahead of any predicted bad weather is the key to ensuring your employees are aware of their rights and treated fairly and consistently.”

Read our blog on bad weather