The sizzling summer has arrived, leaving many workers clammy, stifled and tired – none of which are conducive to productivity. Here’s how HR can better handle the heat for their people…
You’ll be well aware that the UK is in the midst of a heatwave this week, with temperatures getting up to a stifling 37 degrees in London. It is ideal weather for the beach, but such high temperatures can be miserable for employees both in terms of their daily commute into work as well as how they feel in the workplace throughout the day.
As HR professionals, it is important to act on your responsibilities to employees at work during hot weather to reduce the risk of health and safety issues, increased absenteeism, poor morale and decreased productivity.
Is there a maximum temperature?
Within the office, it is a myth that there is a maximum temperature over which staff can go home. Health and safety regulations merely state that the temperature within the workplace during working hours should be ‘reasonable’ – no maximum temperature is stipulated and it is an employer’s duty to determine what reasonable comfort is, taking into account the type of work undertaken and the nature of the workplace.
That does not mean that you can simply ignore the impact that hot weather has on employees, particularly given your duty of care towards employees’ health and safety and to provide safe working conditions.
Be sensible and consider what can be done to keep the workplace more comfortable, consulting with employees for ideas as appropriate. For example, consider the use of fans and air conditioning where available, provide access to drinking water and encourage staff to take regular breaks as needed – these are all helpful strategies to ensure staff keep cool.
Relaxed dress code
For employers who have a strict dress code policy, it is helpful to consider relaxing it while still insisting on certain minimum standards of appearance for staff who are likely to come into contact with clients or customers.
Be sure to make it clear exactly what is (e.g. no ties and no jackets) and is not (e.g. no flip flops or shorts) permitted to manage employees’ expectations and reduce the risk of potentially awkward conversations.
Pay particular attention to more vulnerable employees such as those who are pregnant, elderly or disabled. You should consider undertaking risk assessments as appropriate, offering more frequent breaks or ensuring adequate fresh air circulation.
Effect on transport
Extreme weather can wreak havoc on public transport and the hot weather could result in delays to an employee’s commute. While you are not obliged to pay employees who are late into work as a result of the hot weather, you can encourage employees to check timetables for public transport and plan ahead for any adverse impact the heatwave could have on their standard commute to the office.
You may also want to consider whether certain employees could usefully work from home or undertake flexible working hours to avoid travelling at peak times. But bear in mind the impact any such decisions could have on the rest of the workforce.
Common sense approach
As you can see from the above, managing employees in a heatwave is essentially about using your common sense. It is possible, and in the organisation’s best interests, to maintain business standards while remaining considerate to employees during the hot weather.
This will ensure that you retain happy staff and, as a consequence, reduce absenteeism and maintain productivity.
Lynne Adams is an associate at Hewitsons who advises clients on both contentious and non-contentious areas of employment law. If you have any questions, please get in contact with her on: [email protected].