Too hot to work? - A guide for employers

With the summer well on its way and the temperature rising, work can be a pretty challenging place at this time of year. For some there may be a temptation to pull a ‘sickie’ and head to the beach.

But what is an employer’s duty to their staff in such hot conditions, and how can they encourage employees to give their best while the sun is shining?

Here are some suggestions...

1. Is it ever too hot to work? - The law does not set a specific temperature threshold for the working environment. Instead, according to the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992, an employer must ensure that the temperature of a workplace is "reasonable". If the temperature is therefore not "reasonable", it is possible for staff to argue that they are not expected to work in such circumstances.

The word "reasonable" is of course extremely vague, and it is likely that common sense will play a major part in assessing whether a workplace is too warm for staff. From an employer's perspective, ventilation systems, fans, and the closure of blinds from the sun can be very helpful.

2. Working outside - If staff are expected to work outside in very hot weather, an employer will be expected to undertake a suitable risk assessment. This could involve recommending that staff wear appropriate clothing and sunscreen, or that there are periods of regular respite and somewhere to shelter from the sun.

3. Drinking water - If the weather is very hot, it would be good practice for employers to provide cool drinking water for their staff.

4. Relaxing the dress code - Whilst flip-flops are unlikely to be appropriate, employers could relax the expectation to wear a jacket and tie in very hot conditions.

5. Flexible working - Another good practice for an employer would be to allow people to temporarily adjust their working hours or to introduce a working from home policy to avoid the need to work or commute during the warmest times of the day.  However, employers should be cautious to maintain consistency in this, as they would need to avoid any criticism of favoritism towards some staff over others.

6. Vulnerable Staff - With some more vulnerable members of staff, including those suffering from disabilities, those who are pregnant, or those who are fasting as part of their religion, heatwaves could present further challenges. Employers are therefore expected to carry out a risk assessment and make consequent adjustments to the roles of vulnerable staff when the weather presents these workers added barriers to their work.

Kenneth Rees