Working in a heatwave – what employers need to know

Working in a heatwave – what employers need to know

The temperature has been rising across most of the UK and the 2018 heatwave looks set to continue. Whilst the weather is glorious for those on annual leave who might be able to bask in the sunshine, employees working in offices may not take the same view.

We look at some of the common questions which arise in hot weather and give some tips so that employers are not left taking the heat in the workplace this summer.

What’s the maximum temperature for a workplace?

Perhaps surprisingly, there isn’t one.

Guidance from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) says that during working hours, temperatures within the workplace should be “reasonable”. What amounts to reasonable will depend on the circumstances and the type of work being carried out.

A pragmatic approach should be taken, and if it feels as though temperatures are at an unreasonable level, employers should consider what actions it can take to keep employees’ cool – be it introducing more fans, encouraging employees to stay hydrated and allowing more breaks.

From a legal perspective employers do have a duty of care to their employees and therefore they should take reasonable steps to ensure that workers are safe.

Are there different guidelines for employees working outside?

The guidelines remain the same however the measures an employer puts in place may differ. If a significant number of employees are concerned about the temperatures working outside then a risk assessment should be considered by the employer.

An employer may also want to offer sun cream and/or hats to outside workers. Review regularity of rest breaks and whether shaded areas are accessible. If possible some employers may wish to provide water coolers to encourage hydration.

Can employees come to work in shorts?

In offices where a formal dress code is required, it might not be appropriate to allow dress codes to be relaxed. There is no obligation for an employer to do so in hot weather and certain dress codes may need to be adhered to for health and safety purposes.

However there is nothing to prevent an employer relaxing their usual dress code if it is appropriate. If wearing shorts is not permitted under your dress code, this should be communicated to staff so everyone knows what is expected. Some common complaints that are seen during summer months are around the equality of company dress codes. Men can often struggle in the heat if wearing a shirt and tie whereas women tend to have more flexibility in dresses, skirts or short sleeves. Employer’s need to be mindful and communicate clearly what is and isn’t expected when temporarily adapting the policy.

What if an employee cannot get to work due to transport problems?

It is not uncommon for train services to become delayed or cancelled in hot temperatures due to the lines buckling in the heat. If employees have the option to work from home, this may be an alternative if transport difficulties mean they cannot get into work.

Otherwise consider allowing employees to make the time up for any lateness caused by transport problems, or perhaps allowing them to use holiday if they know they will not be able to make it in to the office. 

In summary

Taking a flexible and reasonable approach in a heatwave will assist employers in ensuring employee’s welfare. This in turn will boost morale and make sure business can carry on as usual as far as possible. 

In need of some Employment advice? Our team have a wealth of experience from employment tribunal management to wellbeing in the workplace. Find out more.