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Can you really be sent home? Everything you need to know about working during the UK’s cold snap

As the UK braces for minus figures across the country, experts at The University of Law have offered guidance on what employees should expect from their workplace, including whether they really can be sent home if it’s too cold.

Overall, employers have a duty of care to ensure workers’ health and safety is looked after[1]. This includes identifying and assessing anything that could cause illness or injury, which can also apply to working conditions such as the temperature of the workplace, which should remain at 16C or higher.

Here, the experts at ULaw offer their advice:

Can employers make you stay in the office if it’s too cold?

Generally speaking, there is no legal minimum or maximum temperature that employers can work in, although 16C is generally deemed acceptable (or 13C for physical jobs).

“That said, employers do have a duty of care by law to ensure the workplace is a safe environment, including ensuring that the temperatures are reasonable – both in the office and for those working from home.

“In extreme temperatures, employers should first and foremost carry out assessments to ensure staff aren’t in any immediate danger, and make plans to ensure staff stay comfortable and safe. These plans could include relaxing dress codes or allowing extra breaks to make hot or cold drinks. In some cases, employers may also provide heaters or fans.

“If, upon assessing the situation, it is deemed that a risk cannot be avoided or removed, any employees deemed to be in harm’s way must be suspended until further notice with full pay[2].”

What to do if your workplace is too cold

“The onus is on the employer to carry out the appropriate assessments and inform staff of the risks in their workplace, as well as how they are protected and how to manage risks themselves where appropriate.

“If workers feel they are being exposed to risks that aren’t controlled, for example working in temperatures below 16C, then they can consult with their employers. Any consultation must be done either directly, or through an elected health and safety representative elected by the workforce or a trade union.

“Failing any resolution being met upon consultation, and if workers still feel they are at risk, this can be reported to HSE.”

“In short, it isn’t advisable to pack up shop and leave work if the workplace feels too cold – this could easily result in disciplinary action. That said, your employer should absolutely ensure your working conditions are safe and comfortable, so if you don’t feel they are this should be communicated in writing.

“With home working now being so commonplace, it’s likely many employers will allow staff to stay home if temperatures stay sub-zero, but if it is compulsory that you’re in the office then communication is key to ensure a safe and comfortable work environment.”