Working from home and freezing? What can you and your employer do?

Kate Palmer from Pensinsula outlines what employers and employees can do to keep warm if they are working remotely and can’t afford to put the heating on.

 

With schools closed due to the bad weather and workplaces impossible to access as a result of the bad weather and strikes, many people will be working from home this week. Yet many will also have turned off their heating to save money. Is there anything employers can do to help and how cold is too cold to work? We asked Kate Palmer, HR Advice and Consultancy Director at Peninsula.

Employers maintain duty of care obligations to protect their employees’ health and safety. For hybrid working staff, an effective solution may be to agree that they spend more time in the office rather than at home. For remote workers, employers should communicate the support options that are available to them. Some employers might introduce a contractual homeworking allowance, to provide financial assistance for employees to keep their heating on throughout the day, but this is not a legal requirement so organisations can implement schemes at their discretion.

Other ways to help staff may be to signpost them to useful information on how they can keep themselves and their homes warm, such as by placing draught excluders in front of doors and keeping blinds closed. Employers can also remind their team of the government’s Cold Weather Payment. Whilst specific eligibility criteria apply, some employees in England and Wales may be entitled to receive £25 for each 7-day period between 1st November and 31st March. This applies if the average temperature in the employee’s area is recorded as, or forecast to be, zero degrees Celsius or below over seven consecutive days. In Scotland, employees might be entitled to an annual £50 Winter Heating Payment.

Further adjustments could include longer or more frequent rest breaks, a change to normal working hours or an amendment of duties.

For remote workers, it will likely be their responsibility to control the temperature of their working environment. If they were to refuse to work as a result of the cold weather, employers should first explore all ways to enable them to continue for instance, returning to the office, providing guidance on how to stay warm, signposting to external support etc. However, if no options were available, staff could be given the option of booking annual leave, using accrued time off in lieu or taking authorised unpaid leave.



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