Nothing can lift your mood like glorious sunshine. Except perhaps, during a heatwave, when you’re stuck in a hot office or factory on a boiling hot day. This month, the Met Office issued its first ‘Red’ warning for extreme heat and potential danger to life.
So, what does the law say on workplace temperature? Is there such a thing as it being ‘too hot to work’? Can staff wear what they want on hot days to keep cool?
An employer has a duty to provide a safe working environment and to assess the health and safety risks to their employees but unfortunately the law does not state a minimum or maximum workplace temperature. While guidance from the Health and Safety Executive suggests a minimum working temperature of no less than 16ºC or 13ºC if doing physical work, there is no substantial guidance relating to a maximum temperature limit.
However, the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992 does place a legal obligation on employers to provide a “reasonable” temperature in the workplace. What constitutes a “reasonable” temperature will very much depend on the workplace environment and the type of work being carried out.
Unions have previously campaigned for a maximum temperature of 30°C (27°C for those doing strenuous work), so that employers and workers know when action must be taken and have intensified their recent demands in view of the recent heatwave by calling for workers to be sent home if workplaces get hotter than 25ºC. However, at this moment in time, this has not resulted in a change in the law.
The Health and Safety Executive has issued guidance suggesting what actions can be taken to ensure employees are comfortable during warmer conditions. Some examples include; providing fans or air-conditioning, shading employees from direct sunlight with blinds, and introducing flexible working patterns. With remote or hybrid working patterns now being the norm for most workplaces, employers should consider whether to utilise this flexibility to allow their employees to work from home.
Employers could also relax the formal dress code or allow “dress down” days on particularly hot and uncomfortable days.
The Government Equalities Office has published guidance concerning dress codes and sex discrimination. The guidance states that “dress policies for men and women do not have to be identical, but standards imposed should be equivalent”. Therefore, a requirement for men to wear a shirt and tie is not unlawful if women are also expected to wear smart office attire.
Although the guidance does not address this particular situation, a dress code which has more stringent rules for men than women, for example, allowing female employees to wear skirts and dresses and not allowing male employees to wear shorts, could be deemed discriminatory on the grounds of sex. However, an employer may have a defence if they can objectively justify their decision but should seek advice from an employment lawyer should such issues arise.
Travel and commuting
During the peak of the UK heatwave this month, National Rail urged people to only travel if necessary. The RAC anticipated over 1000 breakdowns a day during the heatwave and have advised people to question their decision to drive in such heat in the first place. The AA even warned of the danger of melting roads and burst tyres.
Employers should therefore consider the risk of harm for employees who are travelling or commuting into work and if employees are safer to work from home.
In light of the guidance, it would also be wise for employers to review and revise their existing dress code policy, any policy relating to workplace temperature/ health and safety and consider the reasoning behind their policy. Many employers consult with their staff or trade unions to ensure that such codes are acceptable before issuing.
If you would like any information or advice regarding the above issues or any other aspect of employment law, please contact us on 029 2034 5511 or by email at email@example.com