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Employment

Bosses are being told to let staff work from home during the heatwave

A relaxed dress code, regular breaks and lots of water are other recommendations made by unions to help staff cope with the heat.

With England in the grip of a heatwave, the leading body of HR professionals is urging bosses to embrace home working to help staff stay “comfortable and productive”.

There is no legal requirement for workplaces to be kept below a certain temperature but given the current hot weather, firms are being told to take precautions to keep their staff safe and comfortable. 

Temperatures could reach 33C on Tuesday and are expected to remain widely above average for the next 10 days at least.

“Where possible, employers should be flexible with working arrangements and allow people to work from home in very hot weather if they will be more comfortable and productive at home,” said Rachel Suff, wellbeing adviser for the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD).

“Commuting can be arduous in hot weather, so allowing people to stagger their start and finish times to avoid travelling at peak rush hour could help.

“While there’s no specific legal minimum or maximum temperature for workplaces in the UK, employers need to make sure the temperature in workplaces is reasonable.” 

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The government’s Health and Safety Executive recommends a minimum of at least 16C, or 13C if much of the work involves rigorous physical effort, but at present does not state a maximum working temperature

“If a significant number of employees are complaining about thermal discomfort, your employer should carry out a risk assessment, and act on the results of that assessment”, the HSE advises

The NHS says a temperature of 38C or above is a sign of heat exhaustion. The Trades Union Congress is campaigning for a change in the law that would require bosses to attempt to reduce temperatures if they get above 24C.

The union body also wants an absolute maximum indoor temperature of 30C, at which point employers must allow their staff to stop working for their own safety. 

For people working outside, employers should use “flexible working to make use of the coolest hours of the day”, says TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady, and make sure they are provided with “regular breaks, lots of fluids, plenty of sunscreen and the right protective clothing.”

The Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers (USDAW) is also calling for the government to make it a legal requirement for employers to adopt cooling measures when the workplace temperature hits 24C. Cooling measures could include air conditioning, opening windows, and turning on fans, but if these are unavailable or fail to lower the air temperature, the office may be an unsuitable environment for working in.

“Indoor workers need cool drinks, more frequent breaks, relaxed dress code, along with opportunities to remove and replace face coverings,” said Paddy Lillis, general secretary of USDAW. 

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