The recent heat wave has been glorious! Whilst we would all like to think a bit of heat and sunshine will not cause any issues in the workplace, unfortunately in practice sometimes it can.
We have been receiving a number of queries from employers about issues related to the recent hot weather conditions. Here are some common scenarios that can get employers hot under the collar, and our answers:
1. Employees are complaining that the workplace temperature is too hot. What are our obligations?
Health and safety legislation sets out a minimum temperature for workplaces (16 degrees Celsius, or 13 degrees Celsius where work activities involve strenuous physical activities), but not a maximum. Rather, the legislation says the temperature must be “reasonable”. What is considered as reasonable will depend on the work being undertaken.
Employers have a duty of care to ensure there is a suitable working environment for workers as far as they can practicably do so. Where employees are complaining, employers should be looking to see what they could do to make employees more comfortable. Examples of things that could be considered are:
- Purchasing fans.
- Ensuring there is a supply of cool water.
- Allowing employees to take additional breaks throughout the working day.
- Relaxing dress codes.
- Ensuring windows that are in direct sunlight have blinds.
- Allowing employees to work from home if this can be achieved operationally.
- Consider installing air conditioning (if budget allows, bearing in mind that there is not just the initial purchase and installation costs, but on-going energy and maintenance costs as well).
2. We have an employee who called in sick, but then someone saw her Facebook page with a picture of her sunbathing on the beach. What can we do?
It may be possible to take disciplinary action against an employee where there is evidence that they potentially lied about being sick. However, it will be important not to jump to conclusions and to investigate the matter first of all to establish whether or not the absence was genuine.
Where the employee has 103 weeks’ service or more (which means they qualify for the right to be able to claim unfair dismissal), there will be a need to follow a full and fair disciplinary process before deciding on the disciplinary action to take (if any). The evidence from Facebook will need to be presented to the employee as part of that process, and they must be given a chance to tell you their side of the story.
It is possible that lying about sickness absence has the potential to constitute gross misconduct, for which you could summarily dismiss the employee without notice and pay in lieu of notice, but that will all depend on the particular circumstances involved.
3. We require our employees to wear a uniform which includes trousers. Our employees are asking if they could wear shorts or skirts instead in the hot weather. Do we have to do this?
There is no obligation to relax dress codes or change uniforms, but it is something you may wish to consider to help employees feel more comfortable in the hot weather. Relaxing the dress code can also help establish good employee relations.
If you do not relax the dress code, employees can defy you and do it anyway. You could take disciplinary action for such acts (if you had evidence of the rules being flouted), but this is unlikely to generate any good feelings amongst employees.
4. In one team of 10 employees, 8 of them have asked for the same day off to enjoy the hot weather. We cannot allow all of them off at the same time. What should we do?
Employers are not obliged to agree to every holiday request, especially where there are valid business reasons for refusing such requests. Clearly having 80% of the team away at the same time is going to create operational difficulties, so you will have to refuse some of them.
The question then becomes how to prioritise the requests to ensure fairness to all. For example, the requests that were submitted first could be the ones allowed. You will need to apply this method consistently to all holiday requests, or you could risk causing complaints to be made (such as complaints of favouritism). You should also be mindful not to put in place a system for prioritising requests that could lead to discrimination issues. For example, prioritising requests from female employees over male employees could lead to claims for sex discrimination.
It is helpful to have clear rules about holiday requests, and require employees to ensure that a request must be given a certain amount of time in advance of when they wish to take the holiday. This will assist with planning for holidays, and avoid an influx of short notice requests when the weather takes a turn for the better.
If you would like to talk through a situation you are dealing with, or if you need advice on any aspect of employment law, please contact any member of the Pure Employment Law team (01243 836840 or [email protected]).
Please note that this update is not intended to be exhaustive or be a substitute for legal advice. The application of the law in this area will often depend upon the specific facts and you are advised to seek specific advice on any given scenario.