What would you do if an employee complains about the heat at work and threatens to go home?Although there is no maximum legal temperature for a workplace, as employers we are required to maintain a reasonable temperature for our employees to work in. Naturally, our employees will have different views about what is “too hot” so when faced with an initial complaint about the temperature at work you will need to consider whether or not they’ve got a point. For example, is the type of work they are doing particularly physical or are they located in a spot that is especially warm? If you decide that the complaint is well founded, then you should liaise with the employee to see what steps could alleviate the problem. It may be something as simple as providing a fan.
If the complaint is coming from a group of employees, it would appear that the problem is wider or more serious. As before, you will need to look into the situation and if appriopriate, rope in your employees to get sensible suggestions as to what would best alleviate the problem. Some suggetions might include:
arranging for out of service air conditioning units to be repaired, or stuck windows to be refurbished;
checking the thermostat temperature on aircon units;
installing or repairing blinds;
supplying cold drinks;
relaxing certain aspects of the dress code; or even
negotiating a temporary system of regular short breaks instead of a single lunch break.
If, in practice, there is just one employee who is threatening to go home and you do not accept that they have grounds to do so, you can tell the employee that if they go they will not be paid for the hours they miss and they will be disciplined for unauthorised absence.
As always, if an employee still decides to go and ultimately brings a Tribunal claim, it will be up to us to show that their complaint was unjustified and that we had taken steps to ensure the temperature at work was within the magic “reasonahble” range.
Here is a simple checklist on issues arising from hot temperatures at work:
1. Dress codes
If employees comfort at work can be improved they are likely to be more productive. Telling your team that the dress code is temporarily relaxed is also a useful way to remind employees of what you consider to be acceptable and what is not unacceptable regardless of the climate (e.g. bare midriffs).
2. Cold drinks
As a health and safety measure, all employers are required to provide an adequate supply of drinking water but supplying some alternative chilled drinks can really help to lift morale when they would rather be on the beach.
3. Cool the workplace
Checking and servicing any air conditioning units before the weather gets too hot will avoid an uncomfortable wait for the engineer in July! If you are one of the many employers without the luxury of air con, it may be necessary to supply fans and ensure windows can be opened and blinds closed.
4. Holiday limits
Sunny weather can lead to a stampede of holiday requests. Establish clear rules or guidelines about how many employees can be on holiday at a time to avoid the remaining employees being overloaded. Agreeing to holiday on a “first come, first served” basis is the norm, although all holiday requests should be subject to business requirements.
5. Tackle unauthorized absences
You might notice an increase in unauthorised absences during warm weather and/or during sporting events. This can be reduced if your team know that they are going to be required to account for any absences, even short term ones. Conducting return to work interviews can work wonders.