Employment rights whilst working in a heatwave
Hot weather can have a significant impact on an individual’s ability to carry out work and travel. As England experiences record temperatures and a future in which such temperatures are likely to become a more regular occurrence, it is important for employers to understand what their obligations are in such circumstances. Indeed, Acas have stressed that employers should be reminded of their health and safety obligations to their staff.
Can a member of staff claim it is ‘too hot to work’?
The Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992 establishes that there is a legal obligation on employers to provide a ‘reasonable’ temperature in the workplace. The Approved Code of Practice for the Regulations establishes that, whilst the minimum temperature in a workplace should generally be at least 16 degrees Celsius, there is no recommended maximum temperature. Difficulties arise to give an effective recommendation due to inherent high temperatures which are found in certain jobs and therefore, employers should remember their duty of care to their staff and undertake a risk assessment (in accordance with the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999). Employers should implement guidance relevant to their specific circumstances and assessments should include those who are working from home.
What if your staff work outside?
The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 requires ‘reasonably practicable’ measures to be taken by employers to ensure they provide a safe workplace. Such measures may include the provision of an adequate amount of sun cream to cover the individual’s shift.
The employer should also ensure access to drinking water is available.
Do you need to provide air conditioning to your staff?
There is no legal requirement to provide air conditioning to your staff. Though, as outlined above employers should ensure temperatures are ‘reasonable’ and therefore you may want to consider:
- The provision of fans or air conditioning;
- The provision of cool water to your staff; or
- Modifying the dress code as and when appropriate.
Can a member of staff insist they can wear what they want?
There is no legal obligation for a dress code to be relaxed, though this may be a reasonable adjustment if an employee has a medical condition which is exacerbated by high temperatures and it may be considered good practice, if appropriate. Where a dress code is relaxed, the employer can still require a certain standard of appearance and that clothing be suitable for health and safety reasons.
What about travelling for, and commuting to, work?
Whilst there is no legal requirement preventing travel, employers should consider that the hot weather may cause travel disruption. Employers should encourage staff to check travel updates in advance and to notify them of any delays as soon as they are aware of them in order to discuss alternate solutions. These may include working from home, rearranging a meeting or varying start times to avoid peak travel times.
Do employers need to take further steps for vulnerable workers?
As mentioned previously, employers are required to undertake risk assessments in the workplace and owe their staff a duty of care. Some workers, such as those on medication, pregnant women and the elderly may face more severe consequences and specific risk assessments should be undertaken in relation to this category of staff. It may be appropriate to offer specific adjustments such as more regular rest breaks.
As high temperatures become more prevalent in the UK, employers should take steps to plan for this eventuality to support employees and ensure they have the correct policies and procedures in place.