Last reviewed 14 July 2022

Employers in the UK don’t typically have to worry too much about how to manage staff during periods of extremely high temperatures. Indeed, there is an abundance of information available on making alternative arrangements for rain and snow, but with temperatures set to reach almost 40 degrees next week, employers will need to put measures in place to keep teams cool and comfortable. There could be added issues if staff can’t get to work or, in some cases, if they pull a sickie to make the most of the warm weather. As such, it’s best to be as prepared as possible.

The law

The law does not say how hot or cold the workplace should be, and there is no legal maximum working temperature. Guidance only suggests that temperatures should be reasonable and comfortable. Employers can keep staff cool by allowing desk fans, turning up air conditioning and relaxing dress codes. Where a uniform is in place, it can be helpful to give staff flexibility on how this applies during this warm spell. For example, instead of requiring staff to wear branded jumpers or fitted shirts, they may instead allow employees to wear a similar colour but in a more comfortable material and style.

Those who are pregnant or going through menopause may find these high temperatures cause particular discomfort. Where this is the case, reasonable adjustments should be made to support them. This might include arranging for them to temporarily work from home, take longer or more frequent rest breaks, reduce normal duties or moved to cooler areas. Similarly, employees with a disability or other underlying health conditions (eg skin condition, light/heat sensitivity, etc) may require amendments to their normal working arrangements or time off work.

What should employers expect?

It’s likely there will be an influx of annual leave requests from employees who want to make the most of the weather. If normal caps can be extended to accommodate these requests, employers can benefit from improved motivation, satisfaction and productivity. If time off can’t be approved, employers might want to think of other ways to keep staff engaged. For example, providing cool refreshments or ice creams and running an incentive for an early finish. It can be easy to become drained and demotivated in hot temperatures, so small measures like this can be a win-win solution for both the employee and employer.

Some employees may try to pull a sickie if they know holiday time won’t be accepted. However, it’s important to not jump to conclusions. It’s difficult to prove that someone is faking their illness, so the normal absence management process should be followed. Asking staff to call rather than text/email if they are unwell can make it easier to gauge how they are really feeling. Similarly, a return to work meeting should be held when they are better to fully understand the reason for the absence and what treatment, if any, they got for it. Where it is clear an employee is faking, employers may be able to take disciplinary action but should first complete a thorough investigation process.

Additionally, we’ve already seen a trainline in Battersea caught fire as a result of the extreme temperatures, so it could be that staff struggle with their daily commute. In such cases, employers should allow reasonable leniency if staff are late. Where employees can’t get to work at all, employers might want to consider a few days of remote working before offering them the option of utilising accrued annual leave or time off in lieu (TOIL).

Closing the workplace

Other employers are contemplating closing completely. Nurseries and schools have indicated that it may be too warm to safely and adequately care for young children. Many have tried to combat this by relaxing school uniforms to allow kids to come to school in their P.E. kit, but this is only a holding measure. With temperatures going up again next week, some might be forced to shut their doors. Affected employers should look at existing shortage of work clauses within their contracts, which gives them the right to place an employee on lay off and, subsequently, reduce their pay. The wording of the clause will determine whether lay off applies in this situation. If it does, those who have worked for at least one month are entitled to Statutory Guarantee Pay. This is currently paid at a rate of £31 per day, for a maximum of five days within a three-month period. If there isn’t a lay off clause, or the clause doesn’t give employers the right to reduce pay, they may have to place them on authorised paid leave for the duration of the closure. Other options might include enforcing annual leave (with double notice) or requiring staff to use accrued TOIL.

Parents who cannot get to work due to the school and nursery closures may request emergency time off for dependants if they can’t find alternative childcare arrangements. Employers have limited scope to refuse these requests, so may want to check in with staff before the weekend to see if they have heard any related news. This can help plan workloads for the week ahead. As outlined above, annual leave and TOIL may be plausible alternatives, as could offering them to work from home, to allow them to simultaneously manage their working responsibilities with childcare responsibilities. However, doing so can create it’s own issues, so it’s important to speak with the employee before making any decisions.