Top tips for managing staff through weather extremes: summer edition

  • Health & Safety
Working during the summer
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Peninsula Group, HR and Health & Safety Experts

(Last updated )

Summer has only just officially started and the UK has already experienced its first heatwave, ending in widespread thunderstorms and localised flooding.  As we enter the ‘real’ summer months, we share some top tips for managing your staff though the heat and the rain.  

There is no maximum temperature

A common misunderstanding arises around maximum workplace temperatures. Whilst there is no law on either a maximum or minimum temperature, government guidance suggests a minimum of 16C for sedentary work, or 13C for physical work; there is nothing for a maximum temperature. Nevertheless, that doesn’t mean employers can turn a blind eye to the mercury rising.

Employers have a legal obligation to make sure the working environment is safe and comfortable. This means that depending on the type of work being performed, and its location, action is still likely to be needed. Outdoors workers could be given extra breaks, provided with water and sunscreen, and access to a shaded area. For inside workers, unless the air conditioning is working properly it can quickly become stuffy. Employers should be checking in with staff, including homeworkers, that they have what they need to stay safe. Where there is something that can be done that is under the employer’s control, such as maintaining or fixing air conditioning or inviting homeworkers to the office, this should be done as soon as possible.  

You might suspect absent employees of pulling a ‘sickie’

When an employee calls in sick on a hot day, it can be easy to assume they aren’t really sick, especially when the absence lasts just one day.  It can be difficult to prove that an absence isn’t genuine, so it might not be appropriate to take any action against those suspected of not being genuinely ill. Where someone does call in sick, the normal absence management process should be followed, and a return-to-work meeting held. If an investigation leads you to believe there is a case to answer, you can follow up with a disciplinary process. Alternatively a quiet word may be enough to set the employee straight but be consistent in your responses.

Public transport might not be running as normal

In extreme heat or during flooding that commonly followed a period of intense heat, public transport (especially trains) can be affected. For those that are reliant on them to get about, it may be reasonable to agree an alternative plan rather than risk losing a day’s work, and a day’s pay. This could be allowing temporary homeworking, or the use of accrued TOIL/annual leave. By being flexible, employers are more likely to see positive improvements in employee mood and engagement. In the same vein, where staff are late due to the weather, action should only be taken if reasonable to do so, and not without a consideration of an alternative solution, such as adjusting start / finish times. 

Where staff are unable to make it in to work and their workplace is open for business, they are not entitled to be paid unless their contract says otherwise.

 Look after vulnerable employees

High temperatures can negatively effect all employees, but those going through the menopause, are pregnant or have a condition which makes them more prone to discomfort during hot weather can find it extremely tough. Relaxing dress codes, moving workstations away from windows, providing quick access to cold water and adjusting shifts to cooler times of the day may help.

Care arrangements might fall through

Even where the workplace remains open and the employee can travel to work, care  arrangements may be disrupted by the weather. This could be due to faulty air conditioning making the environment unsafe, or where arrangements are cancelled due to the unavailability of staff.

Employees have a statutory right to a reasonable amount of time off to deal with emergency situations involving dependants and this will cover the breakdown in care arrangements. This time off is usually unpaid, although this will depend on the organisation’s policy.

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