Last reviewed 26 November 2018

As the temperature drops, it is important to prepare for the worst. With the nights getting darker, the chill is setting in and beginning to bite, with prospects of frost, ice and snow. Nicola Mullineux, Group Manager at Croner, details how companies can prepare for these conditions in advance, to ensure minimal disruption to businesses during the winter.

Dealing with travel disruptions

Employers are usually concerned about the impact that the colder weather will have on employees commuting to work. Snow and ice in particular present a significant risk to drivers, obscuring vision and creating hazardous conditions on roads.

To protect employees from these hazards, it is worth adding a statement to an adverse weather policy regarding health and safety responsibilities when commuting to and from work.

The statement will differ depending on the industry, and what is expected of employees, but it may state anything from employees being entitled to annual leave upon their safety being compromised, to reminding employees it is their duty to take reasonable care of their own health and safety during the commute.

If alternative arrangements are available such as flexible working or working from home, it is worth letting employees know that this option is available to them as soon as possible.

Some alternative arrangements businesses could make are:

  • allowing your workers to come in slightly later than usual

  • allowing flexible working or homeworking

  • offering shift swaps or overtime to workers who are able to make it into the office

  • allowing workers to take time off as paid annual leave.

It is important that businesses deal with any lateness empathetically, with disciplinary action only required when there is evidence that the employee is taking advantage of the situation. False accusations could lead to a claim of constructive dismissal if pushed too far.

Preparing ahead

It is important to provide clarity to employees. Before the adverse weather kicks in, businesses should ensure contact arrangements are in place, as well as alternative arrangements. It should be clear for both employers and employees to know what will happen in the event that they cannot make it into work and employees will want to what will happen with regards to pay.

It is worth establishing the following.

  • Method of communication for the employees in the event they are unable to attend work.

  • Potential alternative travel options.

  • Whether they can work at an alternative site.

  • Whether flexible working is viable for them.

  • Arrangements for childcare should schools close.

Adverse weather policy

It is advisable for companies to draft an adverse weather policy which will aid dealing with hazardous weather conditions and its resulting issues.

An adverse weather policy may include the following.

Main statement

The main statement should include what is expected of employees and as well as what is expected as an employer. It may also include some of the potential options employers can offer to employees struggling to get to work, ie flexible working, overtime, shift swaps, but it is important that staff members discuss the possibility of one of these options with their manager for approval.

Employee actions

Employee actions should outline that employees are expected to attend work if viable, but the employer accepts that it is not always safe to do so and employees avoid putting themselves or others at risk. Communication should also be included in this section, stating the appropriate method of communication for the employee to contact their employer.

Employer actions

Employer actions should include the employer’s duty to ensure the safety of its employees, including promotion of the adverse weather policy. It is beneficial to state that managers should be fair in their judgment of individual’s circumstances, and should not offer incentives or disincentives to come to work. It is worth reiterating managers’ commitment to employees’ health and safety and wellbeing.

Notification of closure

Notification of closure should state what will happen in the event a site will close. This includes how employees will be notified, as well as what they can expect regarding pay.

Alternative arrangements

It is worth stating that any alternative arrangements should be discussed with a manager in the event of inability to attend work. However, it is often advisable to detail options available to the employee, including details on homeworking, flexible working, making up time, shift swaps, overtime and more.

Other considerations

This section may consider issues not covered in previous sections, such as disabled workers, essential roles in the workplace, staff who are on leave, or where employees can refer to further information on adverse weather issues (perhaps an HR representative within your workplace).

School closures and emergency situations

If an employee’s child’s school closes, the employee is entitled to unpaid time off to care for a dependant. There are other situations where an employee would be entitled to time off, including:

  • caring for a disabled relative

  • if a partner is injured as a result of adverse weather conditions.

It is key that in these scenarios, there is clear communication but also indication of how long the employees believe they will be absent from work. A solution might be that the employees can take this time off as annual leave so they don’t miss out on pay, but they must agree to these terms for them to be implemented.

Managing pay during adverse weather

Legally, employers are not obliged to pay employees who do not come in to work when the workplace remains open. A circumstance where the employers must pay their employee is if the individual usually travels to work through employer-provided transport which cannot operate during bad weather.

Employers must pay employees their normal pay if the employer chooses to fully or partly close the business. Employers must also pay their employees if the employee attends work but their hours are then reduced.

There is also an obligation to pay employees if the office closes due to the absence of essential staff members, such as line managers or staff who provide access to work premises.

It is advisable that absent employees who are not legally entitled to pay, are paid discretionary, through an informal arrangement. This should be arranged prior to the adverse weather that has caused the absence. It is worth confirming pay arrangements by including these within the adverse weather policy so staff have clarity on pay in different scenarios.

Managing office temperature

Unlike periods of severe heat, there is a minimum workplace temperature of 16°C or 13°C where the work involves considerable physical activity.

For employees working outdoors, there is no legally defined minimum temperature, but employers have a duty of care to all staff members which means employees cannot be forced to work in unsafe or unhealthy conditions. It is always advisable to carry out a risk assessment if employees are working in extreme weather.

Aside from regulating the heating in the office, there are a number of things that employers could do to help address a cold working environment such as:

  • relaxing the workplace dress code, allowing employees to wear warmer clothing such as jumpers and cardigans

  • being more lenient with breaks and refreshments

  • bringing in portable heaters for employees to use at their desks or, allowing employees to bring their own (subject to risk assessment).

Businesses should consider the effect cold temperature might have on vulnerable employees, such as pregnant workers. In some cases, it may be advisable to allow them to work from home to protect their health, if the risk cannot be effectively managed.

For employees working outdoors, businesses should review the risks and manage them appropriately by doing the following:

  • provide appropriate protective equipment

  • train employees to recognise the symptoms of cold stress

  • provide employees with frequent rest breaks and encourage the consumption of hot food and drink.

For bespoke advice on health and safety matters or HR queries, speak to a qualified consultant on 0844 561 8149.