You can stop working from home if it's too hot – your rights explained

You can stop working from home if it's too hot – your rights explained

August 11, 2020

WORKERS can down tools if it's too hot to safely do their jobs – and that includes if they're working from home.

According to an employment lawyer; workers have the same rights at home as they do in the office, and this includes ensuring working temperatures are "reasonable".

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It comes as the UK basks in a heatwave this week, with the mercury today hitting highs of 32C – the fourth day running it's risen above 30C.

So what can you do if you're overheating in the office or at home? We explain your rights.

When is it too hot to work?

Technically, there's no set definition for how high or low the temperature should be – it just has to be "reasonable," according to the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992.

These state: "During working hours, the temperature in all workplaces inside buildings shall be reasonable."

The guidelines accompanying the regulations say temperatures should normally be at least 16 degrees unless work involves rigorous physical activity, in which case at least 13 degrees is acceptable.

Bosses are required to take all reasonable steps to achieve this temperature, which can include providing air con or fans, although this may prove tricky with millions of people working from home due to the coronavirus crisis.

What can my boss do to help me stay cool?

ACCORDING to the government's Health and Safety Executive (HSE), measures employees could take include:

  • add or remove layers of clothing depending on how hot or cold you are
  • use a desk or pedestal fan to increase air movement
  • use window blinds (if available) to cut down on the heating effects of the sun
  • in warm situations, drink plenty of water (avoid caffeinated or carbonated drinks)
  • if possible, work away from direct sunlight or sources of radiant heat
  • take regular breaks to cool down in warm situations and heat up in cold situations
  • raise the issue with your managers or, if you can, with your union or other workplace representatives

Once you've raised your grievance with your employer, steps they might take could include:

  • where possible ensuring windows are open, fans are provided to promote local cooling and radiators can be switched off or air conditioning units are maintained
  • introducing work systems to limit exposure, such as flexible hours or early/ late starts to help avoid the worst effects of working in high temperatures
  • relaxing formal dress codes
  • including assessments of thermal risk as part of workplace risk assessments

In this scenario, if you can't keep cool you can argue it's too hot to work comfortably, Mike Hibbs, employment partner at law firm Shakespeare Martineau, confirmed to The Sun after first speaking to The Mirror.

He said: “The fact that many employees are still working from home does not mean that employers can suddenly forget their health and safety responsibilities.

"All the usual rules apply, including the need to risk assess homes as suitable working environments."

He added: “In the workplace, employers usually rely on air conditioning and ventilation to regulate temperatures.

"However, at home many employees may not have this option and their only means of keeping cool will be to open windows.

“Ultimately, employee safety should always be an employer’s top priority and they cannot force staff to work if temperature and noise levels prohibit them from doing so."

Mr Hibbs points out that open windows may cause disruption making it impractical to make phone or video calls, while also posing a confidentiality risk depending on how close your neighbours or passers-by are.

What should I do if it's too hot to work?

The first thing you should do is raise it with your employer if you're too hot to work.

They should work with you to establish ways of staying cool. This can include carrying out a risk assessment.

If your employer isn't helping; try talking to your union or other workplace representative.

See the box above for action both employees and employers could consider taking in hot weather.

Michael Newman, partner at Leigh Day solicitors, says employees may struggle to bring an employment claim due to their work place being too hot.

But he says you would have a claim if you've been unfairly dismissed after refusing to work due to unsafe conditions, or if you've had pay docked as a result.

Can my employer make me come back to the office?

Mr Newman says if it's too hot to work at home one of the actions your employer could take to resolve this is to ask you to come into the office.

But if they do, they still have to ensure your workplace meets coronavirus guidelines, such as ensuring staff can effectively social distance, and installing one-way systems and hand sanitiser stations.

He said: "In this weather, working from home can be dangerous – and death rates can rise in hot weather.  

"Employers have an obligation to provide a safe place to work though, and this could include asking you to come back into the office."

In related news, we look at whether you have to go back to the office if you're worried about coronavirus.

Plus, we look at workers' rights if schools or nurseries stay closed.

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