I’m an employment lawyer – your right to stop working during the heatwave explained

KT4WR8 Portrait of young redhead woman working with computer laptop in office at summer during heatwave. The temperature is hot and the hair conditioner is b

TEMPERATURES across the UK are spiking, leaving many unsure of their rights when it gets unbearably hot at work.

With the heatwave expected to last a couple more weeks, workers have a right to know if they have to work in unbearable conditions.

Employers do have a duty of care when the temperature in the workplace becomes extreme.

However, many may be disappointed to find out that there’s little legal protection when it comes to working in hot temperatures.

Although this doesn’t mean that employers don’t have a duty of care when it begins to get unbearable.

Jo Mackie, head of employment law at Slater & Gordon said: “There is actually no upper limit on temperature, only a lower limit.”

This is true, according to the Health and Safety Executive’s (HSE) Workplace Regulations of 1992.

Mackie said: “Your employer has a duty of care to ensure you are safe in the workplace, and this extends to maintaining a reasonable temperature.”

So in cases like this your employer may make some compromises to help you feel more comfortable.

Mackie recommends that if you can, ask to work from home – especially if your employer can’t maintain a reasonable temperature if there’s no air conditioning in the building.

If you work outdoors you’re less likely to have the above flexibility.

Mackie said: “You’ll need be extra cautious and prepare yourself with lots of water and sun protection to minimise risk of sunburn as well as dehydration.

“You may have to wear uniform, depending on its function. For example if it’s protective then a reasonable employer will liaise with staff to ensure all that can be done is done to keep employees comfortable and safe at work.”

There are practical steps you can take such as keeping water in the fridge and drinking frequently, half filling hot water bottles with cold water and placing in the freezer to cool down if needs be and blocking out sun with blinds or shades.

The HSE recommends that if you are uncomfortable, talk to your manager, supervisor, union representative or employee representative about:

  • Ensuring windows are open, fans are provided to promote local cooling and radiators can be switched off or air conditioning units are maintained.
  • Introducing work systems to limit exposure, such as flexible hours or early/late starts to help avoid the worst effects of working in high temperatures.
  • Relaxing formal dress codes.

While there are calls to introduce a new law to set a maximum temperature at work, but this has not been practical previously because some jobs entail high temperature working such as blast furnaces, steel and glass production.

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