Parts of the UK have been issued with an amber “heat health watch warning” as temperatures are expected to soar to levels not seen in decades in the UK, particularly for such a prolonged period.
For some, like children starting their summer holidays, the heatwave will be welcomed. However; for those of us still having to go to work every day; commuting on packed, stuffy trains, working outside, or in offices without air conditioning, there is less joy at seeing the mercury rising.
I have seen many people asking for advice relating to employee’s rights and employer’s obligations when adverse weather strikes. Here is a run down of common hot weather related employment queries and my advice on how to tackle them.
When is it too hot to work?
There is no legal limit in the UK as to how warm a workplace can be before workers must be sent home. The Workplace Regulations 1992 simply state that employers must ensure temperatures in the workplace are “reasonable.” If a number of employees make a complaint to their employer about uncomfortable temperatures in their workplace, the employer must carry out a thermal risk assessment. The outcome of this assessment may result in workers being sent home; being moved to other premises to work, or an employer may decide that the temperature is “reasonable.”
What can an employer do improve working conditions?
Employers should do their bit to ensure workers can complete their jobs comfortably. For indoor workers, you should ensure there are adequate fans and air conditioning as well as access to cold water. If the work indoors involves manual labour, regular water breaks should be permitted.
For outdoor workers, regular breaks are vitally important. It may also be useful to adjust working hours to avoid the hottest hours of the day – the Met Office have urged people to stay out of the sun between 11am and 3pm where possible. Employers should also ensure supervisors are trained on the signs of heat stroke or exhaustion and what to do in the event of a worker showing these signs.
What can an employee do to remain cool at work?
As strange as it sounds, it is advised to keep windows closed when the temperature is high outside. Opening office windows will simply let hot air in; you are better utilising fans and air conditioning. Be sure to drink plenty of water. If you feel the temperature in your workplace has reached uncomfortable levels, you should raise the issue with your employer who will need to carry out the risk assessment mentioned above.
For outdoor workers, ensure you apply regular sun cream and take regular water breaks in the shade.
Can I wear what I want when it’s hot?
An employee dress code is laid out in the staff handbook or contract of employment. Sometime this will be general office attire, a company uniform, or safety equipment. When the temperature rises, it may be tempting to reach for the shorts and t-shirts but it is advisable to speak to your employer about relaxing the dress code beforehand. Breaking a dress code without prior permission may result in a disciplinary.
Employers are advised to consider relaxing their dress code if possible to ensure workers are comfortable yet safe. Whilst it is not often we have very hot summers like the one we are currently experiencing in the UK, if you require your employees to wear a uniform, it is perhaps advisable to offer a number of options suitable for varying weather conditions. For outdoor workers, hats should be permitted.
A simple gesture of relaxing the dress code can also improve employee morale and productivity levels!
Can I work from another location?
For those whose commute involves long stuffy journeys on public transport, the hot weather can add to the stress of getting to work. Some employers may offer the option of working from home, or from a more suitable/cooler location but it is not a legal requirement. Employees should raise the question of flexible working with their employer if they feel they would be more productive avoiding the stressful commute until the weather cools down.
Farleys Solicitors have a team of employment law experts who can advise you on any issues that may arise as a result of adverse weather. Call us today on 0845 287 0939 or submit your enquiry online.