Guides & Advice

Can you take the day off work if it’s too cold?

Published: 15th December 2020
Area: Corporate & Commercial

As the winter months take hold, getting to work can become a challenge, with slippery roads and icy train tracks making the commute a dangerous affair. Freezing temperatures might even cause the working environment itself to be less comfortable for employees.

In the past, both of these issues could lead to someone taking the day off work, with working from home a far-off concept for many. However, with remote working having become the norm during the pandemic, many people will still be able to continue work no matter the weather conditions outside.

Our informative guide highlights seven practical considerations for employers when their staff are working form home.

Nevertheless, for those where remote working isn’t possible, for example, in construction, it’s important that employers and employees to know where they stand when it comes to cold weather.

Can you legally leave work if it's too cold?

Under the Health and Safety at Work Act, employers always have a duty of care to ensure their workers are safe; and this becomes even more important when the weather turns cold. This includes everything from providing appropriate clothing to help them stay warm, to ensuring that the workspace is safe and free from slip hazards, for example.

Ultimately, if an employer can’t comply with the law and guarantee that their workforce will be safe, they can’t require them to come into work.

Other hazards to consider when keeping your employees safe

On top of the hazards presented by the cold weather, ensuring employees are safe this year also includes providing the necessary PPE, including face masks and face shields, to comply with local and national coronavirus regulations.

Particularly in the construction sector, the same rights apply to full-time employees, contractors, and agency workers. All should be provided with a safe workspace, as well as the correct equipment and PPE, to make sure they can carry out their work when the temperature drops.

Setting expectations

Crucially, employers should communicate what is expected in such circumstances, preferably ahead of any expected bad weather, and make sure workers know the procedures.

If bad weather has prevented employees from getting to work safely, they will need to communicate the situation to their employer promptly – ideally at least 30 minutes before the start of their shift. In the technological and digital age we live in, there are few barriers that prevent employees from sharing information with employers as soon as a problem arises. 

When remote working isn’t an option

If working from home isn’t possible, or an employee wishes to take the day off, for example because they have childcare responsibilities due to school closures, most employers would choose to take a practical approach and avoid disciplinary action.

Solutions could include allowing the employee to make up time elsewhere, such as letting them take the day off but without payment or agreeing that the day off is counted as annual leave.

Many of the UK’s businesses are now set up for remote working better than ever before, making the threat of freezing weather less of a concern for employers. However, working from home isn’t always possible, whether because of personal circumstances or the nature of the job, so employers and employees must ensure they keep communication lines open to avoid any chilly disputes.

We’re here to help

If you need further guidance on whether you can legally ask your employees to come into the physical workplace, or need support with any employment-related issue, speak to a member of your local employment team.

From inspirational SHMA Talks to informative webinars, we also have lots of educational and entertaining content for life and business. Visit SHMA® ON DEMAND.

Our free legal helpline offers bespoke guidance on a range of subjects, from employment and general business matters through to director’s responsibilities, insolvency, restructuring, funding and disputes. We also have a team of experts on hand for any queries on family and private matters too. Available from 10am-12pm Monday to Friday, call 0800 689 4064.

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