With temperatures hitting high levels, we are receiving lots of telephone calls to our Legal Advice Helpline about whether employees have the right to not work when certain temperatures are reached.
The simple answer is: “No”.
The law dictates a low temperature level which employees shouldn’t work in but there is no maximum temperature restriction. However, employers still have a duty of care toward their employees. Bosses should make sure they are doing all they can to keep their people cool, especially in areas where machinery might generate extra heat.
Obvious measures such as keeping windows open to allow some flow of air (in the absence of an air conditioning system), installing a water cooler in all areas to make sure people have access to plenty of fluids, adjusting the dress policy or uniform style, or simply buying everyone an ice cream will all help employers evidence they are keeping an eye on the temperatures and its effects on their employees.
Any workplace with staff who might have issues with regulating their body temperature, such as menopausal women or people with medical conditions will want to consider supplying these employees with a fan. No one wants to experience hot flushes or any heat related side effect which makes them feel they can’t come into work, i.e. due to the potential embarrassment of sweating like the proverbial, breaking out in a heat rash, heatstroke, etc.
In short, employees can’t legitimately refuse to work in the heat, but employers do need to exercise a duty of care.