Call for legal limit on workplace temperatures

Unions call for flexi hours and maximum limits on workplace temperatures as UK enters two days of extreme heat.

red hot sun


Businesses should let office staff work from home or adjust their hours to avoid rush-hour travel due to this week’s heatwave, says the TUC, while the GMB union is calling for a legal limit on how hot it can be in a workplace.

The call comes as figures show an increase in the number of people calling in sick as the temperatures rise.

The GMB argues that workers should not have to contend with temperatures any higher than 25C. Forecasters  are predicting a record high of 41C in England on Monday and Tuesday, with a red warning for extreme heat covering an area including London, Manchester and York.

The GMB says workplaces should relax dress codes during heatwaves and provide more breaks, water and sun cream. According to the Health and Safety Executive [HSE], there is no maximum workplace temperature because every workplace is different”, but its guidance suggests that the workplace temperature must be “reasonable” and the government recommends a “comfortable” working environment with access to fresh air. The HSE says: “Responsibility to make workplaces safe and healthy lies with employers. Workplace temperature is a hazard that comes with legal obligations for employers like other hazards.”

The TUC has also called for the law to be changed so that employers have to attempt to reduce temperatures if they get above 24 degrees C and workers feel uncomfortable. It would also like ministers to introduce a new absolute maximum indoor temperature, set at 30 degrees C (or 27 degrees C for those doing strenuous jobs), to indicate when work should stop.

The TUC advises employers to provide sunscreen to outdoor workers, ventilate offices, use fans, move staff away from sources of heat, relax workplace codes,  allow staff to take frequent breaks and provide a supply of cold drinks and ensure outside tasks are scheduled for early morning and late afternoon.

Lawyer Adam Pennington, senior associate solicitor at Stephensons, says workers’ rights have not kept up with the changing climate, but emphasises that employers have a duty of care towards their employees. He says that a comfortable work environment will vary according to the type of work being undertaken and where that work is being done.  He adds: “Organisations must also make detailed risk assessments for all staff and consider the impact of a heatwave on more vulnerable colleagues or those with health conditions.”

There are also reports of increased absences due to the heat. BrightHR says it has seen a 59% increase in the number of leave requests submitted for today. Last Monday saw a 68% increase.

Alan Price, CEO at Bright HR, says: “When an employee calls in sick when the weather is good it can be easy to jump to conclusion, but don’t assume that every absence is fake.

“The average number of sicknesses also rose by 15% last week and while there will be genuine cases of illness – especially with rising Covid rates – it can be tempting for staff to use sick leave to enjoy the heat.

“Continue your usual absence management procedures as normal and if you have some concerns consider asking employees to call in rather than text or email. Make sure that all absences are recorded. That way you can look for patterns in case some employees have a habit of calling in sick whenever the weather heats up.”

Rise in City jobs and jobseekers

Meanwhile, despite labour shortages across many sectors, Morgan McKinley’s Summer London Employment Monitor shows a 65% increase in jobseekers since last year, which compares to a 46% rise in job availability. However, new jobs feel by 29% between April and May due to a combination of more public holidays, half term and annual leave. Those changing jobs in the second quarter of 2022 got an average salary increase of 25 – a five-year high.

Hakan Enver, Managing Director at Morgan McKinley UK, said: “In the current jobs market, workers have the upper hand. With vacancies in London’s Financial Services 46% higher compared to last year, professionals can demand higher pay and more perks as they search for a better work environment post-pandemic. With job seekers facing external financial pressures through higher costs, such as petrol prices, utility bills and holidays, the desire to move jobs is heightened by the desire to increase their salary to compensate. Competition between companies to secure top talent has propelled pay growth and many are moving fast to recruit top and fresh talent to help them deliver their services and avoid a bidding war.  Now is a better time than ever to consider a new role.”

However, he warned that the jobs market is likely to slow down. He added: “With inflation headed towards double-digits for the first time since the early 1980s, the economic outlook is darkening and confidence flatlining amongst the City.”

*Picture credit: NASA and Wikimedia commons.

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