Too cold to work? | What HR can do when the temperature drops

What HR can do when the temperature drops

With temperatures hitting minuses this week, employers may find themselves dealing with complaints from employees that the cold weather is hindering their efforts to get to work (be it snowy or icy roads) or even to complete their work, due to the wintery conditions causing a major distraction to productivity.

As it stands, there is no minimum temperature specified by legislation and no specified point at which the workplace becomes “too cold" by law to work. Therefore, employees have no legal right to be sent home during cold weather.

Therefore, Peninsula’s Director of Health & Safety, Gavin Scarr Hall, explains how employers should managing the workplace when temperatures plunge:

Duty of care

Hall says: “Just because there is an absence of legislation, it doesn’t mean that your employees should be expected to work at any temperature. It’s vital to remember that employers have a duty of care to ensure the health, safety, and welfare of all employees, and as such, they should consider the workers’ comfort and check that the temperature they are working in is reasonable.

“Use the HSE’s recommendations as a rule of thumb: it suggests 16ºC as the minimum temperature for working, or 13ºC if the work involves rigorous physical effort.

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“You might want to introduce more heaters into the workplace – keeping in mind that they should be appropriately marked and fit for purpose in the UK, as well as kept at least one metre away from anything flammable - and relax dress codes to allow staff to be more comfortable. Also consider providing thermal clothing, heated rest areas, frequent breaks, and job rotation.

“Be mindful of any employees who may particularly be sensitive to the cold. If it’s related to a disability then you have a duty to make reasonable adjustments for them, and to neglect this duty could result in claims of discrimination.

What about hybrid and remote staff?

For hybrid working staff, an effective solution may be for them to spend more time in the office rather than at home, according to Hall.

“For remote workers, employers should communicate the support options that are available to them. Some employers might introduce a contractual homeworking allowance, to provide financial assistance for employees to keep their heating on throughout the day, but this is not a legal requirement so organisations can implement schemes at their discretion,” Hall explains.

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“Employers can also remind their team of the government’s Cold Weather Payment. Whilst specific eligibility criteria apply, some employees in England and Wales may be entitled to receive £25 for each 7-day period between 1 November and 31 March. This applies if the average temperature in the employee’s area is recorded as, or forecast to be, zero degrees Celsius or below over 7 consecutive days. In Scotland, employees might be entitled to an annual £50 Winter Heating Payment.

“For remote workers, it will likely be their responsibility to control the temperature of their working environment,” Hall says, adding: “If they were to refuse to work because of the cold weather, employers should first look at ways to enable them to continue, such as returning to the office, providing guidance on how to stay warm, or signposting to external support.

“However, if none of these options are available, staff could be given the choice of booking annual leave, using accrued time off in lieu or taking authorised unpaid leave.”

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