It’s hot - but is it too hot to work?

Unless you have an airconditioned office, the current heatwave may well be making you feel your job just a little too hot to handle, so we asked Matthew Clayton of Gloucestershire legal experts Willans LLP whether it was ever too hot to work.

By Andrew Merrell  |  Published

With the temperature expected to reach 42 degrees in some parts of the UK, many are feeling the impact of the current heat wave, but do staff who say it is too hot to work have a leg to stand on?

It is a question many bosses reach for the answer to every heat wave, or every time the air conditioning fails in the offices of those lucky enough to have it, as the pleas come in from staff for respite from the temperature.

Matthew Clayton, an expert in employment law at Gloucestershire firm Willans LLP, has the deepest sympathy (his own office has no air conditioning either!), but he says the law is clear.

‘Although health and safety laws say that working temperatures must be ‘reasonable’, there is in fact no maximum temperature set by law,’ said Clayton, a partner at the Cheltenham-headquartered law firm.

‘What is ‘reasonable’ will depend upon the circumstances – for instance sedentary office workers might be expected to withstand higher temperatures than those engaged in physical or strenuous work.’

However, he did have some advice that might be music to the ears of those overheating and those responsible for helping everyone cope.

Employers do, however, have a duty to provide a safe working environment, so if the excessive heat results in a risk to the health and safety of employees, employers may need to take action to address that risk.

‘Don’t forget the importance of good staff relations – if you don’t have the luxury of air conditioning then a few desk fans and ice lollies can go a long way in maintaining morale and productivity!’ said Clayton.

‘And with so many people working from home still it is worth employers remembering that the duty of care extends to people’s homes as well as at the office.

‘The same rules apply to their homes, so you may need to provide equipment such as fans if too hot to work from home or allow people to return to the air-conditioned office.’

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