Some handy tips for Employers on the rights of employees during hot weather

The Summer of 2018 is gearing up to be one of the longest and hottest since 1976.   Whilst many welcome the hot weather, it can be problematic for employees to work in and can literally cause headaches for employers.

It is a myth that there is a set temperature beyond which employees have the legal right not to attend or undertake any work.

Here in the UK there is no fixed minimum or maximum temperature requirement for the workplace.   The Health and Safety Executive suggests that the temperature should be ‘reasonable’ which is not too helpful.

The definition of what is a reasonable temperature to work in also depends on the type of work and workplace.  The requirement to work outside for example is different to working inside where there may be air conditioned facilities.

The Health and Safety Executive has defined an acceptable zone of thermal comfort for most people in the UK as lying ‘roughly between 13c (56f) and 30c (86f), with acceptable temperatures for more strenuous work activities concentrated towards the bottom end of the range, and for more sedentary activities towards the higher end’.

The Chartered Institute of Building Services Engineers recommends the following temperatures for different working areas:-

. Heavy work in factories 13c (55f)

. Light work in factories 16c (61f)

. Hospital wards and shops 18c (64f)

. Offices and dining rooms 20c (68f)

If you do not have a weather policy on extreme weather then the current hot spell presents an opportunity to undertake risk management.

Here are a few things to consider as an employer for addressing excessive temperatures and how they might impact on your staff.

  1. Travel disruption

Hot weather should not be a barrier or an excuse for not getting to work.  However as we have recently witnessed journeys on public transport can be affected with services delayed or cancelled.  Train services have had to reduce speeds due to tracks overheating by way of example.  It is also important to have a policy in place so that your staff know what they need to do in the event of delays or cancellations, and who to contact.  Staff should not be penalised if they have made genuine efforts to get to work and the delays and cancellations are confirmed.  Try to be flexible with working hours if it is known that there is going to be travel disruption.  If possible it might be better for staff to work from home if they can be more productive or perhaps they can stagger their hours of work?

  1. Annual leave and unexplained absences

It is traditional for staff to book annual leave in the summer months.   The right to take annual leave is a statutory right set out in the Working Time Regulations 1998 and the full time minimum is 20 days and 8 bank holidays per annum.   As an employer you do have the right to refuse a request for annual leave if too many staff want to take the same period of time as holiday.   It is important to treat all requests for annual leave fairly, equally and consistently for example on a first come first served basis.

Hot weather might also make it more difficult to sleep and also there could be a propensity for staff to go to bed later.  This could result in absences from work and/or timekeeping issues.   Employers need to investigate such absences and timekeeping issues to determine whether there are any mitigating factors or if there are grounds to deal with these issues under any disciplinary policy.

  1. Drinking alcohol at lunch time.

In hot weather there is an increased desire for some staff to go to the pub and indulge in a cheeky pint or more.    Once again it is recommended that employers have a policy in place dealing with drinking alcohol during working hours and being under the influence of alcohol.

It really does depend on the job and drinking alcohol is always going to be more serious if the work involves handling machinery or driving a vehicle.  In such circumstances drinking alcohol could be tantamount to gross misconduct especially where their health and safety and that of others is compromised.

On the other hand if staff work in an office environment then a pint of beer isn’t going to cause too much of a problem.  However if the consumption is excessive then it can be treated as a disciplinary issue.

It is also important to be aware of any members of staff who suffer from alcoholism and to offer help and assistance as opposed to dismissing them which could expose the employer to the risk of an employment tribunal claim.

Above all be consistent with all members of staff on what is acceptable in terms of consuming alcohol in hot weather and at all.  It most instances it will be a matter of common sense.

  1. It’s too hot in the office

Many staff have a tendency to complain that it is too hot to work during a hot weather.  As an employer there is a duty of care to your staff and during hot weather it is easy to take some simple measures to promote good health and safety practices and staff well-being.  You can for example ensure that there is plenty of drinking water, and a fridge to store cold drinks.  Ensure that there is adequate air conditioning and/or fans.    It might also be possible to buy ice-creams for staff which will also boost morale.

Do ensure that the hot weather does not impact on an increase in anger and bad tempers amongst staff and that any concerns about failure to concentrate and tiredness are looking at sympathetically.  There may be special circumstances for some members of staff who suffer from medical conditions that are aggravated by hot weather.

If staff work outside for example on a building site then it is also important to protect them from the hot sun and it is important to limit exposure to sunburn and heat stroke.  It is recommended that staff do not work outside during the hottest parts of the day which generally are perceived to be between 11am and 3pm.  Consider staggering hours or changing them with agreement so that outside workers work earlier and/or later shifts.

  1. Dress codes

If the working environment is professional with a strict dress code then it could be worth being lenient during hot weather to provide comfort to staff.    This could include relaxing the rules on wearing a jacket and tie for men, and to allow short sleeved shirts and blouses.   It should be a matter of common sense, whereas flip flops and shorts are not acceptable whereas chinos and a short sleeved shirt would be acceptable.

Hot weather is not unusual in the UK however the prolonged hot spell is.  It is therefore important that employers react sensibly to minimise discomfort in the workplace and to ensure that they have adequate weather related policies in place to deal with the issues set out in this article.

If you need any advice on implementing a weather related or any other policy mentioned in this article then contact Steven Eckett our Head of Employment and Senior Associate. or contact us on 020 7703 5034.


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