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Keeping employees happy and productive during a heatwave

Tips for employers from XpertHR

A heatwave is predicted across the UK this week. The Met Office and Public Health England have jointly issued a level two ‘alert and readiness’ warning with temperatures predicted to hit 37°C in some parts of the country.

But what should employers do when the mercury rises? XpertHR offers advice to employers around the legalities of working in a heatwave.

It may surprise some to learn there is no maximum temperature in the office. While trade unions are calling for the maximum workplace temperature to be set at 30°C for non-manual work and 27°C for manual work, there is currently no legal maximum working temperature in an office.

The Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992 say employers must maintain a reasonable temperature, but do not specify a maximum temperature. The accompanying code of practice sets out a minimum temperature of 16°C, or 13°C if the work involves considerable physical activity.

The Health and Safety Executive has defined an acceptable zone of thermal comfort for most people in the UK as lying “roughly between 13°C (56°F) and 30°C (86°F), with acceptable temperatures for more strenuous work activities concentrated towards the bottom end of the range, and for more sedentary activities towards the higher end”.

What is reasonable will depend on the nature of the workplace and the activities undertaken.

The Health and Safety Executive says that employers should consider six factors when deciding whether to keep people in the workplace: air temperature, radiant temperatures, air velocity, humidity, the clothing employees are expected to wear, and their expected work rate.

XpertHR says that employers should also take a common sense approach when it comes to enforcing dress codes, such as business suits and uniforms.

Whilst businesses can still enforce a dress code during a heatwave, they should consider relaxing the rules to keep staff happy and productive.

They should make staff aware that any relaxation in the dress code is temporary, during the hottest days, and add some stipulations about any items not allowed such as beachwear or flip-flops. Staff working outside should always have appropriate clothing and sunscreen.

Often hot weather can lead to problems with transport, with train tracks buckling and roads melting. There is no obligation on employers to pay employees who arrive late, even through no fault of their own. The onus is on employees to get to work and the obligation to pay under the contract of employment arises only where they are ready, willing and available for work.

However, employers should consider making allowances for employees having problems getting to work due to public transport disruptions, such as allowing more flexible hours or working from home, or allowing employees to make any missed time up later.

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