Keeping the company cool when temperatures soar

The world is on track for the hottest year since records began according to NASA, and scorching temperatures look to set to return to the UK with 30°C forecasts for late August.

For those heading to work, rather than the seaside, they may be asking employers ‘how hot is too hot?’ in their working environment, or wondering whether delayed or cancelled trains mean they can take the day off.

The benchmark often given is that people work best in temperatures between 16°C and 24°C, but in the UK there is no fixed minimum or maximum temperature requirement for the workplace.   Instead, the Health & Safety Executive say that it should be ‘reasonable’.  Defining whether a temperature is reasonable will depend on the type of work and workplace.  It means that an office where workers are generally sitting down will need to be warmer than a factory where strenuous manual labour is going on.  Similarly, a food cold store or a bakery will each take temperatures to extremes that wouldn’t be reasonable in other environments, and may require protective clothing.

Explained Donna Bromyard, employment Solicitor with Hertford solicitors Breeze & Wyles Solicitors Ltd :  “For any company that doesn’t have a clear policy on extreme weather, which covers everything from summer heatwaves to winter snowstorms, this hot spell is another prompt to undertake risk management in this area. What comes out of that will determine any special provisions that may be needed.

“What’s important is having a clear policy that everyone knows about and then being consistent in how it is applied. It doesn’t necessarily have to be exactly the same for everyone, as some groups may need special treatment, but it needs to be fair.”

Getting to work

Generally, hot weather shouldn't be a reason to avoid travelling to work, but public transport does occasionally grind to a halt in extreme temperatures and it’s worth having a policy in place so that staff know what they should do if cancellations are expected or delays happen.   As with working conditions, for some groups of workers it may be appropriate to make special provisions.

Special cases

Special consideration should be made for anyone who may experience greater problems in extreme temperatures because of medical or other conditions.  If someone is pregnant or on medication, they may need more frequent rest breaks and be given a personal solution, such as a portable fan or air cooling unit, if there is no fixed air conditioning.  Similarly, those working under direct sunlight, or in specialist protective clothing, may need special consideration, as working outside without adequate protection may increase the risk of skin cancer and working in heavy protective clothing could increase the risk of dehydration.

Encourage wellbeing

It’s important to avoid dehydration in hot weather, so it’s a good idea to make sure there is easy access to drinking water and encourage staff to swap their morning coffee for a cool drink.   The average recommended daily water intake of 2 litres for women and 2.5 litres for men should be increased during heatwaves.  It’s also worth reminding everyone to avoid heavy meals and to stay out of the midday sun, both of which can lead to health issues, such as plummeting blood pressure or sun stroke.

Mood management

And finally, it’s worth making sure that managers watch out for tempers that rise together with the temperature.  The connection between hotter than average weather and higher levels of aggression is generally acknowledged, even if the reason why it happens is still up for debate, with physiological and psychological reasons in the mix.  At the other extreme, high temperatures can mean a loss of concentration and increased tiredness, making workers more likely to put themselves or others at risk.

She added: “Also, for companies with a strict dress policy, it may be worth considering offering a dress-down option during hot weather.  It doesn’t have to mean you end up with a beach code, but could make a major difference to comfort levels for staff, which will have a direct impact on the dynamics in the workplace.”

The Chartered Institute of Building Services Engineers recommends the following temperatures for different working areas:

  • Heavy work in factories: 13°C
  • Light work in factories: 16°C
  • Hospital wards and shops: 18°C
  • Offices and dining rooms: 20°C

ENDS

Web site content note: 

This is not legal advice; it is intended to provide information of general interest about current legal issues.

References:

http://www.hse.gov.uk/temperature/index.htm

http://www.acas.org.uk/index.aspx?articleid=5349

https://www.tuc.org.uk/workplace-issues/health-and-safety/temperature-work-heat-guide-safety-representatives

http://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/IOTD/view.php?id=88607

http://www.livescience.com/55469-2016-could-be-hottest-year-on-record.html

https://www.theguardian.com/science/brain-flapping/2015/jul/03/summer-hot-weather-anger-psychology


Clamp down for employers who call a spade a shovel

Ride hailing app Uber has won attention for revolutionising the taxi business worldwide, but is now grabbing headlines for different reasons, following legal action by drivers claiming workers’ rights.

The GMB Union brought the action on behalf of a group of Uber drivers, who are described as self-employed ‘partners’ by Uber. The action argues that as Uber pays the drivers and effectively controls charging rates and the route taken, they owe the same responsibility as any employer does to its workers, including the minimum wage, paid leave and making sure drivers take rest breaks.  If successful, Uber could be forced to compensate drivers for past payments, as well as future.

Anything Uber-related attracts attention, following its meteoric worldwide growth, but the problem highlighted is one that UK companies need to consider as they seek efficiencies in staffing.

Many organisations do not recognise that even where someone is not an employee, they may still be categorised as a ‘worker’ and be entitled to certain rights such as the minimum wage and paid holiday. Employees are also ‘workers’, but with extra employment rights and responsibilities.

To tackle the problem, the Government has launched an online tool to help employers and individuals to identify their status.

The definition of a worker in the Working Time Regulations 1998 is someone who works under a contract of employment, or any other express or implied contract, to provide work or services personally for a reward and who cannot send someone else to carry out the task. There are some exceptions on sub-contracting of work, and also where services are provided by an individual through a limited company, however, it means that many casual, freelance or self-employed workers may be treated as workers. In one case that reached the Employment Appeal Tribunal, a self-employed joiner working exclusively for a firm of building contractors, was found to be a worker, despite providing his own hand-tools and paying his own tax and national insurance.

Similarly, many think that calling someone an intern will confer a special status, but it’s much more likely they too will be a ‘worker’ or an employee. So, what counts when deciding whether an intern is due to be paid?

  • If someone is acting as a shadow, watching someone at work, and not undertaking anything on their own that could be seen to be of benefit to the company, they are not likely to be a worker
  • If they can come and go as they please, and are not required to do a certain amount of work, they may not be classified as a worker. A shorter term placement is also likely to support this.
  • If they are a student and undertaking work experience of less than a year as part of a UK-based further or higher education course, they are exempt from the national minimum wage, although the Government is encouraging all employers to pay interns irrespectively.
  • Voluntary workers may not be entitled to the minimum wage if they’re working for a charity, voluntary organisation, associated fund-raising body or a statutory body and they receive only limited benefits such as travel or lunch expenses

Said Donna Bromyard, solicitor of Breeze & Wyles Solicitors Ltd:  “When employers come up with different ways of contracting for services and staffing to make efficiencies, it’s not necessarily a bad thing for workers, who may themselves be seeking greater flexibility, for example, but both sides need to be clear.  What’s important is recognising that the way that the company and an individual interact will determine the outcome on employment status, rather than simply the title that’s given to someone.”

She added: “It’s a complex area, and even something that seems clear-cut may not prove to be so – such as a case where someone working through an agency has been able to satisfy the conditions for employed status. If it reaches an employment tribunal, they will be looking at the intentions of both sides, as well as whether a person provides their own equipment, has some form of financial risk or is integrated into the business.”

ENDS

Web site content note: 

This is not legal advice; it is intended to provide information of general interest about current legal issues

https://www.gov.uk/guidance/employment-status-indicator

https://www.gov.uk/employment-status

https://www.gov.uk/employment-rights-for-interns

http://www.acas.org.uk/

Regulation 2 (1) of the Working Time Regulations 1998

Torith Ltd v Flynn  [2002] UKEAT 0017_02_2111

Brook Street Bureau (UK) Ltd v Dacas [2004] EWCA Civ 217 

https://www.leighday.co.uk/News/News-2016/July-2016/Legal-hearing-in-Uber-workers-challenge-to-begin-n