July 24, 2019

Can’t stand the heat? – What the law says about working in hot weather

The heat wave is here. All eyes, or eyes behind sunglasses, are poised on whether the temperature will eclipse 38°C, the current national record recorded in Faversham, Kent in 2003.

With some sections of the media suggesting it is too hot to work, or discussing how many bottles of cold water employers should provide per employee, what can employers do to avoid their workforce going home?

What the law says about working in hot weather

Despite the interest in a workplace's temperature, there is no minimum or maximum working temperatures before it is "too hot to work" (or even too cold) and everyone can escape to the local pub garden.

Government guidance, helpfully, states it needs to be "reasonable". This being said, employers have a duty (through both health and safety and an implied contractual duty) to provide a safe working environment for their employees and cannot just ignore the issue if their employees are too hot or too cold.

What you can do in practice

If an employee is too hot they can become dizzy, faint or get heat cramps. Should they be too cold (in winter or due to the air conditioning) then they are likely to lose concentration and fall asleep. Obviously either of these situations can affect productivity and morale.

The TUC have been campaigning for the Government to address this impasse. It wants the introduction of a new maximum indoor temperature, set at 30 degrees - or 27 degrees for those doing strenuous jobs - with employers obliged to adopt cooling measures when the workplace temperature hits 24 degrees.

This week,  TUC general secretary Frances O'Grady made press headlines suggesting that employers should allow staff to work flexibly and have a relaxed dress code during the heatwave. It is  "in bosses' interests to provide a cool and comfortable work environment", says the TUC, and measures to keep staff happy could include:

• offering your employees a "relaxed" dress code (such as short sleeves and shorts)
• providing free ice creams and cold drinks
• encouraging employees to take more breaks, and
• allowing flexible working to avoid the rush hour or "peak" heat times.

Care should be exercised though as any relaxation to company procedures/policies could cause complaints if exercised unfairly or disproportionally. Changes should be communicated by a number of methods, if possible, and include employees that are not at work (through maternity/shared parental leave etc).

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