As employees across the country continue to sweat it out during one of the longest heatwaves the UK has seen, many are calling for a relaxation in working conditions.
Turn on the TV or open up a social media site and you are bombarded with mixed messages about what to do when it is ‘too hot to work’. Employers should therefore be clear about their policies and obligations when this term is being used so freely.
Despite what people may say on social media, there is no maximum workplace temperature in the UK, and employees do not need to be sent home for being too hot.
This may well change in the future, given the House of Commons’ environmental audit committee’s recent call for a maximum temperature limit to be set. But for now, employees must carry on.
Health and safety regulations do say, however, that working conditions should be ‘reasonable’ and employers should make efforts to show what steps they have taken to achieve this and review what is ‘reasonable’ in their workplace.
For example, construction firms employing outdoor staff must ensure employees are wearing sun cream and have regular rests and plenty of water breaks. While that sounds common sense, it is often overlooked and can cause major problems such as sun burn and dehydration, which not only impact productivity, but can sometimes require medical attention.
Consider relaxing dress codes, but leave no room for uncertainty. If the organisation requires a shirt, make that clear. For people in creative industries, for example, shorts might be acceptable, but make sure everybody understands the rules and limits.
Homeworking or more flexible hours to avoid busy public transport could be offered across the board, if appropriate.
Other possible steps include investing in safe and tested fans if the organisation’s building has no air conditioning.
But, in a world where negative opinions can spread so easily, communication is key to protecting the business from criticism and potential legal action.
Speak to staff; there may be people with medical conditions that need extra support. Regular check-ins 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, which is of course a vital factor in any business’ success.
Alison Loveday is partner at Kennedys