The legalities of working in a heatwave

heatwave sun

Article provided by Jo Stubbs, Head of Content at XpertHR

With the heatwave showing no sign of slowing down across some parts of the UK, the Met Office issued a heatwave warning this week and reported that Monday was the hottest day of the year so far.

Half of all offices are considered too hot according to Andrews Air Conditioning with women more likely than men to find the temperature uncomfortable – 27 per cent of women complained their office was too hot compared to 22 per cent of men.

So, what are the legalities of working in a heatwave – and how hot is too hot?

It may surprise people to learn that there is no maximum workplace temperature for the office. While the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992 do not specify a maximum temperature they say that employers must maintain a reasonable temperature, but what is reasonable will depend on the nature of the workplace and the activities undertaken.

The Health and Safety Executive says employers should consider six factors when deciding whether to keep people in the workplace. These include air temperature, radiant temperatures, air velocity, humidity, the clothing employees are expected to wear, and their expected work rate. Ultimately, the temperature at work should be “reasonable” when factoring in the type of workplace.  To ascertain if their workplace temperatures are reasonable, employers should carry out a risk assessment, and then implement any appropriate controls.

Many offices have a formal dress code, with business suits or smart jackets required and employers can still enforce this during a heatwave. They could potentially discipline or send home staff who refuse to follow the company dress code, provided they follow proper procedures. However, there is obviously a common sense approach to working in very high temperatures.

To keep staff happy and productive, employers may choose to relax their dress code temporarily, adding some stipulations about certain items not allowed such as beachwear, which would not be appropriate for the office.

The high temperatures have also impacted some peoples’ journeys to work with train tracks buckling in the heat causing widespread delays for commuters. While employers have no obligation to pay employees who arrive late for the missed time many will try to make some accommodation for employees having problems getting to work due to public transport disruptions.

They may encourage more flexible working or working from home or allow employees to make missed time up later. Another option might be for both parties to agree that any missed time will be taken as paid annual leave where the employee wishes to be paid for the time off.

It’s useful for employers to have policies in place for how they will manage disruptions to public transport and deal with employees working in extreme weather conditions to ensure consistency. With three consecutive record-breaking hot years reported last year suggesting that heatwaves are becoming more common, more companies should be putting these policies in place.

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