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Why hot weather can be an HR issue

July 4, 2023

It’s summer, so that means that it’s time to dust off the shorts and sandals, strawberries are in plentiful supply, and (hopefully) the weather is good.

We love to talk, and complain, about the weather. That extends to offices and workplaces where colleagues have different temperature thresholds; some want the window open because they are too hot while others want a hot water bottle because they are too cold.

Hopefully though, and as I write this blog with the sun shining in Dundee, the consensus will be that it has been rather hot recently. But is it ever too hot to work?

A maximum working temperature?

This is governed by Health and Safety legislation. The legislation provides that employers should make sure that the temperature in workplaces is reasonable (a great legal word). There is however no maximum temperature provided. Contrast that with the colder times of the year where the minimum temperature should be no lower than 16 degrees (or 13 degrees where the work involves particular physical effort).

Notwithstanding that though employers have been advised by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) to take reasonable measures to protect their employees from the heat. This is because heat is classed as a hazard and employers therefore need to action in relation to it.

The HSE recommends taking sensible steps, which many employers likely already implement such as:

  • Making sure workplace windows can be opened or closed to prevent hot air from circulating or building up.
  • Using blinds or reflective film on workplace windows to shade workers from the sun.
  • Placing workstations away from direct sunlight and heat sources.
  • Putting insulation around hot pipes and machinery.
  • Offering flexible working patterns so workers can work at cooler times of the day.
  • Provide free access to drinking water.
  • Relaxing dress codes if possible.
  • Providing weather-appropriate personal protective equipment
  • Encouraging workers to remove personal protective equipment when resting (ideally in shaded areas) to cool off.
  • Sharing information about the symptoms of heat stress and what to do if someone is affected.

You might also want to think about more frequent breaks to allow workers to cool down or to get a cold drink. Clearly, what is reasonable and practical will depend on your workplace but just make sure that you do not ignore this issue as it could have broader consequences, including employees having to take time off or, in some cases, you might find yourself facing a discrimination claim.

Possibility for discrimination?

While in most cases, temperature at work is likely to be an easy matter to address and will be short lived, for some employees, particularly those who have particular medical conditions or disabilities affected by temperature or potentially those employees suffering badly from, for example menopause, you have to be particularly mindful of temperature as by failing to consider this and reasonable adjustments, you might open yourself up to claims for discrimination, most likely around failure to make reasonable adjustments, indirect discrimination on the basis of (most likely) sex, age or disability or discrimination arising from disability.

In those cases, do not dismiss concerns raised by employees and investigate them as much as you can. Get input from the employee concerned to assess what you can reasonably do to help. You may also need to seek an opinion from their GP or occupational health.

The key is not to generalise and deal with matters swiftly, sensitively and appropriately. If you are in any doubt, then please take advice.

If you need advice or assistance with this, or any other employment law matter, then please contact the Blackadders Employment law team with offices throughout Scotland.

The opinions expressed in this site are of the author(s) only and do not necessarily represent the opinions of Blackadders LLP.

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