Lauren Harkin: Employees’ health rights in high temperatures

temperatures With temperatures set to soar well over 30 degrees Celsius in parts of the UK this week, rumours often circulate about the rights of employees regarding the temperatures in which they can legally work. So, do employees have a right to stop working if a maximum temperature is exceeded?

Somewhat surprisingly, employees do not have the right to stop working if it gets too hot. While there is a minimum working temperature of 16 degrees for workplaces, there is no maximum temperature. Given that there are industries where it will be necessary to work in higher temperatures, such as bakeries and metal and glass production, it is difficult to envisage what an appropriate limit for a maximum temperature would be.

Employers do, however, have a duty of care to provide a safe environment where staff are not at risk of falling ill from the heat. For those with employees that are home working, it is sensible for line managers to check in with staff to ensure that they are well, and remind them to take breaks and stay hydrated.

For employees that work in a usual workplace, employers should consider relaxing rules around dress code, in particular removing restrictive items of clothing such as ties. Considering a dress-down policy for the days when the temperatures are considerably high is also sensible.

Employers may also wish to adopt a more flexible pattern, such as earlier starts or later finishes when it is typically slightly cooler, enabling employees to take rest during the hottest part of the day or avoid busy public transport at peak times.

The Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992 state that the temperature of a workplace should be reasonable. The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 requires employers to make a suitable assessment of the risks to the health and safety of their employees. Temperature is a potential hazard that employers must consider when doing such assessments. If several employees complain about the heat, the business is legally obliged to carry out a risk assessment.

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Additional steps should also be taken in relation to pregnant employees, and employers should ensure that specific risk assessments for pregnant employees – or those suffering from certain medical conditions or taking medication – are carried out.

Lauren Harkin is a partner in the employment team at law firm RWK Goodman.