Employers and the heatwave: fact versus fiction

We are advising employers to be sure of the law around working in higher temperatures, as employees across the country sweat it out during the UK heatwave.

Alison Loveday, a Partner in our Manchester office, has warned firms to be clear about their policies during a time when ‘too hot to work’ is a term spreading across social media.

Alison commented: “Contrary to common misconception, there is no maximum workplace temperature in the UK, and employees do not need to be sent home ‘for being too hot’, despite what people may say on Twitter. Although this may not be a legal requirement, it is important, however, that employers stand back and look at what is “reasonable”.

Health and safety regulations instead refer to working conditions to be ‘reasonable’ and employers need to make efforts to show what steps they have taken to achieve this. Construction firms employing outdoor workers, for example, must ensure staff are wearing sun cream and have regular rests and water breaks. While that sounds common sense, it’s often overlooked and can cause major problems on sites.

According to Alison, consulting employees is important in order to protect employers from criticism and potential legal action. She adds:

“Speak to your staff, there may be people with medical conditions that need extra support. Consider relaxing dress codes but leave no room for uncertainty. If your firm requires a long sleeve shirt, make that clear. For people in the creative sector, for example, shorts might be acceptable – but make sure everybody understands the rules. Also, it may be that homeworking during this heatwave is offered across the board."

Other possible steps include investing in safe and tested fans if your building has no air conditioning. Have Managers and the HR department check in with staff. This will ensure that the firm has been seen to take reasonable steps to putting employees’ wellbeing first and will avoid causing damage to staff morale.

Alison Loveday, Partner