Nothing can lift your mood like glorious sunshine. Except perhaps when you’re stuck in a hot office or factory on a boiling hot day. 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.
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 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. 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. Employers could also relax the formal dress code or allow “dress down” days on particularly hot and uncomfortable days.
The Government Equalities Office has recently published new (albeit brief) 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 could be deemed discriminatory on the grounds of sex. However, an employer may have a defence if they can objectively justify their decision.
Allowing female employees to wear skirts and dresses and not allowing male employees to wear shorts in the summer months can be a recurring issue in the workplace and one that is potentially discriminatory. Where employers are met with requests to allow male employees to wear shorts and short sleeved shirts for example, employers could consider relaxing the formal dress code and seek advice from an employment lawyer.
In light of the guidance, it would also be wise for employers to review and revise their existing dress code policy and consider the reasoning behind their policy. Many employers consult with their staff or trade unions to ensure that the code is acceptable before issuing.
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