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What are my rights at work in a heatwave?

PUBLISHED: 12:09 24 July 2018 | UPDATED: 17:19 24 July 2018

When things are heating up in your workplace, what are your rights?
 Picture: Sonya Duncan

When things are heating up in your workplace, what are your rights? Picture: Sonya Duncan

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With the mercury still rising Nicola Butterworth, employment law expert at Howes Percival in Norwich, busts some of the common workplace myths associated with the summer months.

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Myth: There is a maximum workplace temperature

Fact: The law does not state a maximum temperature. Instead, employers are required to ensure that the temperature in workplaces inside buildings is “reasonable”. What is reasonable will depend on the work being undertaken by staff and the environmental conditions of the workplace.

In compliance with their general health and safety obligations, employers should assess whether the temperature of the workplace is a potential hazard and take action where necessary. When the mercury is rising, this could include consulting with staff to establish measures to cope in the heat.

Myth: Staff can adapt their clothing according to the temperature outside the workplace

Fact: As temperatures rise so, generally, do hemlines. Whether staff can adapt their clothing will depend on their employer’s official dress code and workplace culture.

Although many employers do adopt a more flexible dress code during hot weather, businesses can still insist that staff comply with particular requirements of their dress code for example, for health and safety reasons or to present their corporate image.

If the dress code is relaxed, employers should ensure that staff are clear on the appropriate workplace attire and that the policy is applied in an even-handed, non-discriminatory way.

Myth: Workers have a right to take holiday when they want

Fact: Employers often face an influx of holiday requests over the summer as employees seek to take time off to spend time with their friends, family or head overseas. This can present difficulties for employers in balancing the needs of the business against the expectations of staff.

Having a system in place for dealing with multiple holiday requests such as a rota, ballot, or first come first served system can assist with handling such requests.

Whilst all workers have a legal right to a set amount of holiday each year, they can’t necessarily take holiday when they want. Employers can restrict when workers can take holidays and also stipulate when they should take leave. In doing so, employers should act reasonably and be consistent to avoid challenges from staff that the refusal of their holiday booking was not justified.

Myth: Employees who fail to turn up for work on a hot summer day must be skiving

Fact: Employers are perfectly entitled to challenge the authenticity of an employee’s absence. Indeed suspicions may be aroused where the employee has returned late from holiday or they take time off work following the refusal of a holiday request.

Some staff may be skiving (although according to polls, they are most likely to pull a sickie in the first week of February). Before jumping to conclusions, employers should make reasonable attempts to contact the employee and investigate the reason for their absence. If there is no adequate explanation for the absence, the matter should be treated as a conduct issue and dealt with in accordance with the employer’s disciplinary procedure.

Myth: Seasonal workers have no employment rights

Fact: The summer is one of the busiest periods for seasonal workers as businesses recruit to cover increased work demands or seasonal fluctuations. Seasonal workers are generally taken on for a limited or defined period.

Most individuals who work seasonally are employed and have the benefit of the usual legal rights enjoyed by employees (subject to the necessary qualifying periods being fulfilled).

Those individuals who are engaged as casual workers or under zero-hour contracts may not benefit from the full range of employment law rights but they are still entitled to be paid the national minimum wage and are protected against unlawful discrimination.


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