Can my employee refuse to work in hot weather?

  • Health & Safety
worker in high vis jacket
Gavin Scarr-Hall - Director of Health & Safety at Peninsula

Gavin Scarr Hall, Director of Health and Safety

(Last updated )

“It’s too hot,” your employee complains as they fan themselves. “I can’t work in these conditions!”

Okay, maybe they didn’t say that last bit…but you’re still worried.

Temperatures have been steadily rising, and you know it’s time to crank up the aircon. But can your staff actually refuse to work if the hot weather gets too much?

Well, technically yes.

High temperatures can cause ill health, fatigue, and concentration issues. Which makes hot weather a big health & safety concern.

And if your employee has a reasonable belief that their health could be at risk, they do have the right to refuse to come to work. You wouldn’t be able to discipline them for this successfully - unless your workplace has taken steps to mitigate this risk and you can prove your employee’s belief is unreasonable.

So, here are some hot weather health & safety measures to help you protect your workplace from risk.

1.      Keep your workplace temperature at a comfortable level

There’s no legal minimum or maximum temperature for workplaces. However, under HSE guidance you should aim to maintain a workplace temperature of at least 16 degrees (or 13 if the work is physically demanding).

Because whilst there’s no legal temperature to meet, you should still make sure it’s comfortable.

On particularly hot days and your staff work indoors, you can help moderate the temperature and keep them comfortable by:

  • Keeping windows open.
  • Providing desk fans or ceiling fans.
  • Keeping the air-conditioning on.
  • Keeping workstations away / sheltered from direct sunlight and sources of heat.
  • Setting up cold water dispensers.

2.      Consider flexible working

Another way you could mitigate your hot weather risks is to consider flexible working.

For example, you might allow your staff to adjust their work hours temporarily so they can work at cooler times of the day. This is a big one for staff who work outdoors, where you can’t take steps to adjust the temperature.

You may even want to consider rescheduling their work to earlier in the morning or later in the day when the heat isn’t as intense. Or, in extreme cases like a heatwave, it may be a safer bet to cancel work if you’re unable to reduce heat hazards even with precautions.

If you work indoors, you might allow staff to work from home if that might make them feel more comfortable or to split their time between home and work.

3.      Relax dress codes

If your staff wear heavy or tight-fitting uniforms, they’re likely to feel uncomfortable in hot weather. And if someone overheats in their work attire, there’s a higher risk of them having ill health or an accident on the job.

What you could do is relax your dress code temporarily or provide lighter and more breathable uniforms (which we touch on below).

If you do relax your dress code, this doesn’t mean you can’t still set boundaries (like banning flip flops and shorts if you’re worried about your workers going too far).

You can either relax the rules in your current dress code policy or introduce a hot weather-specific dress code.

Just make it clear to staff that this is a temporary arrangement and update them on when they’ll need to start wearing their original attire again.

4.      Remind staff to look after themselves

Working in hot weather can be more than just uncomfortable. It can leave staff dehydrated, tired, and suffering heatstroke.

It’s why you should remind your workers to look after themselves – for their sake and others. You might want to send over information about heatstroke, as well as general health & safety resources.

This advice might be as simple as reminding staff to take regular breaks, stay hydrated, keep shaded as much as possible if working outdoors, and wear sun protection if they’re working in the sun for hours.

Sending out these reminders not only shows staff that you care about staff wellbeing, but it also reminds your workers to take responsibility for their own health and safety too.

5.      Provide personal protective equipment (PPE)

By law, if you cannot take steps to mitigate your workplace health & safety risks, you have to provide personal protective equipment (PPE) to your staff.

This applies to anyone who works for you – whether they’re a full-time employee or a casual worker. Self-employed staff are the only exception.

PPE is equipment your staff can use to protect themselves from workplace hazards. Some examples include safety helmets, gloves, eye protection, and high-visibility clothing.

In the case of hot weather, you may need to provide clothes made of breathable material, hats to shield staff from the sun, and suncream.

To find out whether your staff need PPE and what type of PPE they’ll need, you can find out by carrying out a risk assessment.

6.      Seek health & safety advice

If you have any doubts about how to eliminate your hot weather risks, don’t hesitate to speak to a health & safety professional.

Peninsula’s health & safety experts offer on-site visits to help you identify any existing workplace hazards. So, you can take steps to keep your staff safe.

Our experts are also just a phone call away if you have any questions at all about your duty of care. It’s always better to have peace of mind knowing you’re taking the right steps to handle the heat and stay safely in line with the law.

 Just tap below to book a free advice call today.

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