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

Most companies now have a hybrid working policy in place, meaning there is no reason for an employee to take a day off simply because the weather conditions have prevented them from attending the office.

What considerations should be in place?

Crucially, employers should communicate what is expected in such circumstances, preferably ahead of any expected bad weather, and make sure workers know the procedures. Having a policy in place to cover this scenario and the expectations of the employer are best practice.

Is it legal to attend 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 to work.

Setting expectations for remote working circumstances

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 and following any specific requirements their employer might have issued. In the technological and digital age we live in, there are few barriers that prevent employees from opening up a line of communication and sharing information with employers as soon as a problem arises.

What if remote working is not an option?

If remote working is not possible due to an employer’s policies or the nature of work, 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; allowing them to take the day off but without payment, or agreeing that the day off is counted as annual leave.

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.

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Danielle is an Employment Partner at Shakespeare Martineau, working in the Lincoln office. She has been practicing Employment law for over 16 years, including having successfully led a team of Employment lawyers in a previous position.

Danielle acts for a variety of clients from smaller and mid-sized organisations to large multi-national businesses, working across multiple sectors including manufacturing, facilities management, retail, education, police and armed forces, professional services, hospitality & food and drink.

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Published: 15th November 2023
Area: Corporate & Commercial

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