Working During a UK Heatwave: Can I Leave Work Early If It’s Too Hot?

Whilst UK heatwaves have been relatively rare, they have recently been increasing in prevalence, with a London heatwave forecast for next week. This means that the likelihood of employees working during a heatwave is correspondingly higher.

Below, we discuss the laws around working during heatwaves, including employee rights and employer obligations, and consider reasonable adjustments which could make working conditions more bearable.

Working During a UK Heatwave: Keeping Temperatures Reasonable

Next week, there is a London heatwave forecast to start, with temperatures expected to exceed 30 degrees Celsius. Over the summer of 2022, the country saw no fewer than five UK heatwaves.

The Met Office defines these as periods of at least three consecutive days during which temperatures exceed the relevant threshold for the area in question. In fact, temperatures soared to above 40 degrees Celsius in 2022, setting a record for any British summer.

Employers Have Legal Duty of Care Especially During a UK Heatwave

Owing to climate change, such events are predicted to become ever more frequent in years to come, meaning that they are equally likely to have a more significant impact in the workplace. Understanding employees’ rights and employers’ obligations in such circumstances is consequently increasingly important, not least during the London heatwave forecast for next week.

Employers have a legal duty of care to keep their employees safe if they are working during a heatwave. According to the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations, employers must keep temperatures inside buildings “reasonable” during hours of work.

No specific maximum temperature is specified, as what is reasonable will vary depending on the type of work being undertaken. However, employees should raise concerns with their managers if they are struggling to cope with the heat. There are also certain laws and guidance that employers should follow with respect to employee safety during a UK heatwave.

Laws and Guidance on Working During UK Heatwaves

During a UK heatwave, workplace temperature is likely to constitute such a risk. Under the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations, employers are obliged to conduct risk assessments and implement protective controls. Furthermore, employers should consult with their workforce in such circumstances and ascertain their views on how to cope with the heat.

Employers are legally required to provide employees with readily accessible drinking water. It is extremely important to remain hydrated when working during a heatwave to avoid heat stress. UK law also obliges employers to permit their employees adequate breaks in their working day, namely a minimum of 20 minutes for every six hours worked.

Health and Safety Executive Guidance on Regulating Temperature

The Health and Safety Executive has published guidance on temperature in the workplace, including how to regulate this and avoid heat stress. This advice includes considering the relaxation of formal dress codes, removal of protective equipment whenever possible, and implementation of control measures.

Such measures might include “keeping cool,” by providing fans and maintaining air conditioning, for instance, and “avoiding heat”, by perhaps using blackout blinds to block direct heat from the sun and moving desks away from hot machinery.

Whilst employees have no specific right to leave work early during a UK heatwave, this may be another measure for employers to consider to protect their workforce. Allowing employees to work from home, where temperatures may be more easily regulated, or to work flexible hours to avoid working during the hottest parts of the day, are just two examples of such measures which employers may wish to consider.

UK Heatwave: Reasonable Adjustments for Employees, Especially Pregnant or Menopausal Women

Certain categories of employees are likely to suffer more acutely when working during a heatwave and be more susceptible to heat stress. These include pregnant and menopausal women, employees of a higher age, and those suffering from health conditions which can be exacerbated by heat.

For such employees, employers are legally obliged to make reasonable adjustments. This is to ensure that they are able to work without being substantially disadvantaged. Failure to make such reasonable adjustments may constitute discrimination. Such employees are entitled to make a formal request for reasonable adjustments in the workplace. Alternatively, employers may raise this as a possibility themselves, if relevant.

Employees With Health Conditions Need Extra Support During UK Heatwaves

Some organisations may have formal procedures in place for requesting and implementing reasonable adjustments. For those who do not, employees can make a request by contacting their employer in writing or raising the matter directly with a manager. The purpose of reasonable adjustments is to support employees with health conditions and to remove or reduce any disadvantage that employee has when working.

The type(s) and extent of such reasonable adjustments will therefore vary on a case-by-case basis. Some of the suggestions set out above may be appropriate. However, it is advisable for employers to discuss this directly with each employee who is entitled to reasonable adjustments and ascertain the best solution(s) for them.

If you think your employer is failing to comply with its legal obligations during a UK heatwave, Redmans Solicitors would be pleased to help. Get in touch with one of our approachable employment law experts today for a free, initial consultation.

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