Spring is here. Or is that winter? All over the country, people are facing difficulty travelling on account of snow and ice and, here on Merseyside, things are no different.
In fact, this is quickly turning into that time of year when I receive multiple text messages from friends, some more jokey than others, asking if there is a minimum temperature at which they are required to work because their workplace is so cold or, as my favourite text states: ‘so cold as to give a polar bear frostbite!‘
Now, poorly polar bears aside, there isn’t a set temperature at which staff can suddenly declare it to be too cold and go home without recourse. Even if there was, those staff would be highly unlikely to be paid during their absence from office.
Instead, businesses rely on guidance from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). The HSE recommeds that office-based workers be exposed to temperatures no lower than 16C and any workers whose work requires ‘physical effort’ (i.e. being on your feet and moving arond) are not exposed to temperatures below 13C.
However, be very aware of that word above: ‘guidance‘. This is not a strict legal requirement and, instead, the only real duty on employers is that they must provde a “reasonable” temperature in the workplace. In reality then, as long as the temperature isn’t cold enough to cause foreseeable and realistic harm to health (i.e. hyperthermia or frostbite) to staff (or poorly polar bears), staff cannot simply elect to head home.
This being said, a reasonable employer would be expected to allow staff requests to wear extra layers (even if contrary to the dress code), bring in portable heaters (subject to appropriate Health and Safety checks) and take additional hot drink breaks. Additionally, if any staff members are especially vulnerable to cold temperatures, such as pregnant, unwell and/or older workers, an employer may be expected to consider suitable adjustments to keep them warm or, alternatively, send them home.
Whichever way, let’s hope this weather clears soon before working in the cold becomes snow laughing matter… (Sorry!)