Time to break out the shorts? What employers need to do for staff in a heatwave

We talked to employment experts about rules and advice for dealing with the summer heat.

By Sarah Harford

WITH TEMPERATURES SOARING across the country, many people’s thoughts have been on sun, sea and ice cream.

But with the warm weather forecast to continue, the heat also makes for uncomfortable – and, in some cases, dangerous – workplaces for some employees.

According to the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act, an employer has a general duty to ensure the welfare of employees, including requirements around temperature, ventilation and supply of water at work.

However Melanie Crowley, head of employment law at Mason Hayes & Curran, said that there’s a difference between the letter of the law – and what might be in an employer’s best interest in order to look after workers.

She noted that the act specifies a minimum temperature for workplaces but not a maximum temperature.

“I think the reason the legislation isn’t more prescriptive than that is because workplaces change depending on whether someone’s in an office, on a building site, a farm, a garage, or in a retail space.

“There’s no ‘one-size-fits all’ rule because workplaces can be so many different things.”

Working outside

Derek McKay, managing director of Adare Human Resource Management, also pointed out that every employer will have a different situation to deal with.

“For employers of construction workers, council workers, or anyone who’s working outside, we’d encourage them to ensure they’ve taken sufficient measures with their staff, such as limiting the time spent outdoors, encouraging them to take shade or put on the factor-50 sunscreen.

“Internally, some offices are better equipped for dealing with the heat than others. More modern offices may have better air conditioning and can regulate the temperatures within the office.

“But if you’re in an old Georgian building you might not have the same sort of facilities, so employers should make sure they’re bringing fans or other measures.”

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Source: RollingNews.ie

Crowley said that, from a legal perspective, employees aren’t necessarily entitled to more breaks because the temperature is slightly higher than normal.

“Employers do have very strict obligations in relation to facilitating employees in taking breaks at certain times, but they aren’t increased by virtue of the weather we’re having at the moment,” she said.

“To the extent that employers have obligations to provide safe places of work, that could be extended to additional breaks. But it depends on the circumstance.”

Summer dress

When the sun is shining there may be a temptation to break out the holiday wardrobe, but that doesn’t necessarily mean every office should become short-and-T-shirt zones.

“Again, there’s nothing in the law that prescribes a change to dress codes when the temperatures go up or down,” Crowley said.

“My advice to employers is to be reasonable when it comes to dress codes and likewise to employees my advice is to be mindful of the fact that they are at work.”

McKay said that some organisations already have a casual approach to attire, while others may have a ‘casual Friday’ arrangement, which “could be extended during the hotter periods”.

“But if employees have to deal with the public or clients they may still need to maintain a level of professionalism,” he added.

“I know some employers would be cautious that it might set a precedent – that any time from now on there’s a bit of heat we can all start wearing shorts and T-shirts to work – but now is the time to make a clear communication.”

Overall, McKay said that the most important thing is to “take a practical approach”.

“Employers should demonstrate consideration during this unusual time period for us in Ireland, and try to find a happy medium between maintaining professional standards and facilitating employees during the hot weather.”

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