UK Weather Questions and Answers

28th February, 2018 under Employment Law by Sara Devennie

The weather in the UK at the moment is causing severe disruption to many people’s daily lives. Here’s a few FAQs setting out what should happen in these circumstances:

Q. If my child’s school is closed do I have to take unpaid leave?

A. It depends what your contract of employment or relevant company policy (if any) says. If your contract or policy provides what should happen in these circumstances, generally this should be followed. If your contract of employment or company policy does not set out what should happen in these circumstances, you have a few options. You may be able to take a day’s holiday at short notice (if agreed with your employer). Alternatively, in certain circumstances you have the right to take (unpaid) time off work, to care for or make arrangements in respect of a ‘dependant’. A school closure is likely to be one of these circumstances. In addition, if you are prevented from coming into the office due to caring duties, you may be able to work effectively from home on a short-term basis, with the agreement of your employer.

Q. If my workplace is closed due to bad weather do they still have to pay me?

A. It depends what your contract of employment or company policy (if any) says. If your contract or policy provides what should happen in these circumstances, generally this should be followed. If your contract of employment or company policy does not set out what should happen in these circumstances, you should discuss this with your employer, and try to come to an agreement. If you are willing and able to attend work but your workplace is closed, it is reasonable that you should be paid.

Q. If the heating is broken at my workplace can I be forced to stay at work?

A. An employer is under a general duty to provide a safe place and system of work for all employees. The temperature of your workplace should be reasonable without special clothing.

The Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992 Approved Code of Practice and Guidance suggests the minimum temperature in a workplace should normally be at least 16 degrees Celsius. If the work involves rigorous physical effort, the temperature should be at least 13 degrees Celsius. These temperatures are not absolute legal requirements – your employer has a duty to determine what reasonable comfort will be in the particular circumstances. If the heating is broken, your employer may be able to provide temporary heating to ensure you are comfortable.

The HSE recommend the following measures to prevent thermal discomfort in a cold workplace:

  • Reduce cold exposure by minimising processes that involve spending time in cold areas.
  • Provide adequate heating, including extra heaters if required.
  • Provide suitable protective equipment to deal with harsh temperatures.
  • Reduce draughts.
  • Introduce alternative working patterns such as flexible working to minimise employee exposure to a cold workplace.
  • Provide enough breaks for workers to make hot drinks and/or spend time in heated areas.
  • Provide appropriate insulating floor covering or protective footwear if employees are expected to stand for extended periods of time.

Q. If the weather conditions are deteriorating and I think I may not get home unless I leave work now – what are my rights?

A. It depends what your contract of employment or company policy (if any) says about these circumstances. If your contract or policy provides what should happen in these circumstances, generally this should be followed. If your contract of employment or company policy does not set out what should happen in this situation, you have a few options. You could speak to your employer, express your concerns, and with their agreement, leave earlier than normal to go home. You may agree to take this as holiday and be paid for it; you may agree with your employer that this time will be paid or unpaid; you may be able to work from home for the remaining part of the day; or you may agree with your employer that you can make the time up at a later date. What is important is that an agreement is reached and both parties act reasonably.

Q. If my boss makes me stay at work and I can’t get home due to bad weather – do they have to pay for my meals and accommodation if I book a hotel?

A. It depends what your contract of employment or company policy (if any) says about these circumstances. If your contract or policy provides what should happen in these circumstances, generally this should be followed. If your contract of employment or company policy does not set out what should happen in this situation, it is unlikely that your employer is obliged to pay for meals and accommodation if you cannot get home due to bad weather.

Sara Devennie is an Associate solicitor in the Employment Law Department at Beecham Peacock. She can be contacted on sdevennie@beechampeacock.co.uk or 0191 232 3048 to discuss these issues, or any other employment issue, further.

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