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AS temperatures across the UK soar, many Brits will be struggling to keep cool while they work from home.
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Workers can stop working if it’s too hot to do their job – but they should speak to their employer firstCredit: Getty
Temperatures are set to rise to 25C today in parts of the UK following a scorching Bank Holiday weekend.
And while we’re grateful the sun is finally out after weeks of rain, it’s got us missing the office air conditioning.
So what can you do if it’s too hot to work from home?
We’ve spoken to the experts to find out what your rights are and what your employer should be doing to help:
Can I stop working if it’s too hot?
Employees are allowed to down their tools if it’s too hot to work, including if they work from home.
Under the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992, temperatures have to be “reasonable” in order for employees to carry out their jobs.
Technically, there’s no set temperature to define when it’s too hot or too cold to work, but guidelines suggest work spaces should be at least 16C.
Where jobs involve rigorous physical activities, workplace temperatures should be at least 16C.
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
Bosses should take steps to achieve these temperatures, such as providing air conditioning and fans – but this may be impractical while millions are still working from home during the pandemic.
“Employers have a duty of care to keep their employees safe, which is extended to include those who are still working from home,” explained Kate Hindmarch, employment lawyer at Langleys Solicitors.
“Employers cannot forgo this responsibility, while their employees may be working from home, as in fact they can potentially be at a higher danger of being impacted by the heat due to a lack of air conditioning and proper ventilation. “
Gary Wedderburn, Acas Knowledge Adviser added: “Some workers may be more affected by the hot weather, such as older people, pregnant women or those on medication.
“Employers may wish to give them more rest breaks and make sure there’s enough ventilation by providing fans or portable air cooling units.”
Can my boss make me come back to the office?
If it’s too hot to work from home, your boss may ask you to come back to the office so you are able to carry out your job.
Technically, this is still in line with Government guidance as you may argue that you are not able to work from home due to the heat.
Ms Hindmarch said it’s best to encourage employees to continue to work away from the workplace if possible, especially as poor ventilation has been linked with the spread of Covid-19.
She added: “Although if an employee feels that the workplace might be cooler, an employer can encourage them to come in and work there as long as they are still following all COVID-19 guidelines. “
If you are asked to return to the office, your employer must still make sure that the workplace meets the Covid-secure guidelines.
These include, ensuring staff can socially distance, installing one-way systems where necessary and supplying hand sanitising stations.
Alan Price, CEO of HR firm BrightHR, added that employers should still take into account employees individual circumstances when asking them back into the office.
He added: “Knowing the British weather, the heatwave is likely to be over quite quickly, which means it could be shorter than the length of time it takes the employee to make new arrangements for childcare, for example, that are currently in place due to homeworking.”
What should I do if it’s too hot to work at home?
If you’re struggling to carry out your work at home because the temperature is too high you should tell your boss, said Ms Hindmarch.
It’s harder for bosses to carry out their duty of care when employees aren’t in the office, so communication is key.
They should be able to help you find a way to stay cool, even if you’re at home. This may involve carrying out a risk assessment.
“If an employee is feeling ill or worn out due to the heat an employer should encourage them to seek out medical assistance and take a break from work,” Ms Hindmarch added.
Employees are encouraged to speak to their union or other workplace representative if their bosses aren’t providing support.
Michael Newman, partner at Leigh Day solicitors, previously told The Sun 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.
If you’ve worked from home this year – even for a day – you may be able to claim a working from home tax rebate worth up to £125.
Working from home rules could be lifted on June 21 under stage three of the Government’s coronavirus road map out of lockdown.
However, there are reports this could be delayed by another month due to the sharp rise in the Indian variant.