Cold temperatures and the weather

While there is currently no UK law that sets a maximum or minimum working temperature, Community stands alongside its sister unions in our fight for a minimum workplace temperature, as well as negotiating the provision of temporary heating, relaxation of dress code when it is cold, and paid breaks for staff to keep warm. 

It is vital that you know where you stand when facing cold temperatures and weather while at work.

What does the law say?

The Health and Safety at Work Etc. Act 1974 and The Management of Health and Safety at Work 1999 Regulations require every employer to make a suitable and sufficient assessment of:

  • The health and safety risks that employees are exposed to whilst at work.
  • The health and safety risks that persons who are not in their employment might be exposed to, because of, or in connection with, the work being undertaken.
  • Your employer must consider all the risks to you as employees and to the public when making an assessment regarding cold temperature and the weather. This could include external factors such as travel to and from the workplace.

Health and safety regulations state that workplace temperatures should be “reasonable” – being a minimum of 16°C or 13°C if you are doing physical work.

I am cold at work. What do I do?

The first thing you should do is speak to your employer. While there is no law for a minimum workplace temperature, your employer has a responsibility to keep you safe at work, including from the cold. They may be able to provide heaters, relax dress codes, provide hot drinks and more rest breaks to help you deal with the cold.

If your employer is refusing to act, your Community Health and Safety Rep can investigate and take up health and safety concerns with them.

What clothing should I wear?

There is an expectation that your employer will relax dress codes or uniforms to include warmer layers if it is cold, and sufficient heating cannot be provided.

If you work outside, or in a cold location, your clothing will be classed as Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and should be provided by your employer to mitigate the risk. This should include:

  • Several layers of clothing to adjust depending on the work you’re doing.
  • A waterproof outer layer.
  • Any footwear should be slip-resistant.

If you have not yet been provided with adequate PPE, you should speak to your employer, your Community Health and Safety Rep or contact us immediately for support as this can put your health and safety at risk.

I work outdoors. What are my rights?

If your work takes place outside, there are currently no minimum temperature guidelines in place.

Your employer should have undertaken a risk assessment which identifies the risks of working outdoors, and therefore manages and mitigates the risks that you face where possible, especially when working in icy or snowy conditions. This can include:

  • More frequent breaks.
  • Providing hot drinks.
  • Ensuring you have adequate clothing and PPE to undertake your work safely.
  • Delaying work until the weather warms up.
Nursery, school and college closures

The Education School Premises Regulations 1999 state that heating in schools must be capable of heating classrooms to a minimum temperature of 18°C, which must be maintained while the classroom is in use. In gymnasiums, the temperature must be at least 15°C. If these temperatures cannot be maintained, then schools should be closed. In other education settings, such as nurseries and colleges, the temperature must be a minimum of 16°C.

If your child or dependant’s nursery or school is closed due to cold weather or the snow, and you need to stay at home to care for them, you are entitled to take reasonable time off. You must let your employer know as soon as possible so arrangements can be put in place.

If your child is under the age of 18, you may also eligible to use emergency parental leave. In both cases, you typically won’t be paid for your time off, unless specified in your contract of employment. If you don’t wish to lose pay, you may be able to request to use compassionate, sick or annual leave instead.

If possible, you may be able to request to work from home.

What do I do if I have suffered an injury or illness due to the cold or weather?

There are many risks associated with working in the cold, including an increased likelihood of getting ill. These can include colds, influenza, and viruses. If you get ill from cold temperature at work, you should notify your employer immediately for the reason and take sufficient time off to recover.

If you work outdoors in the cold, and aren’t equipped with adequate PPE, you are at high risk of serious illness and injury, including frostbite or hypothermia, or slips and trips if it is icy.

If you sustain an injury or industrial illness or are hospitalised because your employer failed to provide you with the correct PPE, you may be entitled to compensation. As a member of Community, you have access to free and discounted legal services, including personal injury claims. 100% of any compensation won will go directly to you. Find out more.

Driving in the snow and ice

One of the most common low temperature concerns is driving in the snow and ice.

The presence of snow and ice is not automatically reason for concern. Firstly, a risk assessment should be undertaken by your employer or Health and Safety Rep to assess the situation – this should include any weather forecast, information from public transport and workplace accessibility.

Your employer should make the recommendation about workplace safety/travelling to work so that a decision can be made as to what action needs to be taken. This could include snow clearing and gritting of outside areas.

If your workplace remains open, it is your responsibility to travel to work. If you are unable to travel into work because of the presence of snow or ice, you must notify your employer in the normal way. Failure to do so could result in unauthorised absence and possible disciplinary action. Your employer may ask you to take the time off as annual leave or offer the opportunity to swap shifts or undertake flexible working to work the missed time.

I can’t get to work because of the snow. Will I be paid?

In most cases, you are not entitled to pay if you’re unable to get to work because of travel disruption or bad weather.

If your employer normally provides your travel to work and this has been cancelled because of the bad weather, you are still entitled to pay.

You may have a specific clause written into your contract or staff handbook or have a collective agreement in place at work where your employer will pay you if you cannot get to work due to circumstances beyond your control such as snowy or icy conditions.

Your employer may make discretionary, informal arrangements such as letting you work from home, or making up the missed time later. However, they are not obliged to do this. They may also suggest that you use a day of annual leave or sick leave, but this cannot be imposed upon you without sufficient notice.

If your workplace is closed due to the weather, there is a reasonable expectation that you should be paid.

If you are on a zero-hour contract, your employer will not have to pay you.

I work as a driver. What are my rights?

If driving is part of your job, then your employer or Health and Safety Rep should have undertaken a risk assessment of your journey and the vehicle(s) that you use during extreme cold weather.

You should also receive regular refresher training on driving in the winter, covering checking your lights, wipers, tyres and weather forecasts before setting out. If your vehicle is not operating properly, you should let your employer know immediately as this could put you at severe risk.

You should make sure to take a shovel and blanket as well as hot drinks and food. We would also advise that you check that your heating system is working.

If the snow and ice are too severe, your employer should make it clear that you can abandon the journey if it’s not safe.

If you need help or advice, please contact us at or on 0800 389 6332.


Not a member?
Let’s get to know each other.