Cold weather: where employers stand
As a country, the UK does get a lot of stick for seemingly coming to a standstill in any kind of cold weather that coasts close to the extreme, and snow is the perfect example. In other countries where six feet of the white stuff is a given at some point during the winter, over here we can be lamenting the lack of snow one year and cursing a three-week bout that makes us consider getting some crampons.
This unpredictability can have a knock on effect on our working day or even days, as employees can be left confused as to whether they should be taking risks on icy roads to get into work, whether they get paid if the office is closed, and what obligations their employers have for keeping them in a safe and comfortable environment.
To pay or not to pay?
If the weather is making it difficult for you to get into work, the employer is under no obligation to pay those days. Just as it’s not the employees fault, neither is it the employers. There might be the option to negotiate a day of paid leave or make up time elsewhere if this is going to cause problems for the employee financially.
If the employer decides to close, they would normally pay normal wages in the meantime, unless the employees contract states otherwise.
If a nursery is closed, this is one of those situations which is classed as an emergency, and a time where a parent or guardian is entitled to take unpaid leave. In this case, this time off should be taken to arrange alternative arrangements for a dependent, rather than take care of the child or dependent themselves.
Temperature and cold stress
If employees have made it into work, the temperature should be no lower than 16 degrees in a stationary role, and 13 degrees in an active one. This minimum workplace temperature is set out in Regulation 7 of the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992.
Employers needs to make sure any staff working outside in the cold weather are taking precautions to keep warm and avoid health issues. These can include:
- Frequent breaks to get warm
- Staying hydrated but avoiding caffeine or alcohol
- Warm-up the muscles before strenuous work through stretches
- Wear protective clothing such as a hat or hood, insulated boots, layered clothing and gloves.
Safety at work
An employer has to make the working environment for their employees as safe as reasonably possible. An employee making a claim after slipping on snow or ice at work is not necessarily a clear cut case, and the court will consider the circumstances – specifically if it was possible for the employee to reduce the risk in the first place.
Safety on the road
If an employee is expected to drive as part of their job, the vehicle their driving should be safety checked before bad weather lands, and be equipped blankets, torches, first aid kit and other essentials.
The employer should also make sure that any drivers are trained on how to be cautious in tricky conditions to reduce the likelihood of a severe accident.