What are your rights at work when there’s hot weather? What do employers have to do if you’re pregnant or going through the menopause, and we’re having a heatwave?
Hot weather and your rights
In the UK, there’s no legal maximum temperature for someone who’s at work. Instead, the law says that temperatures in buildings should be ‘reasonable’. This leaves quite a lot of room for interpretation. If you’re in a restaurant kitchen, ‘reasonable’ will be quite a lot hotter than if you work in an office or shop. And if you work outside, there may not be much your employer can do to control the temperature anyway.
SAVVY TIP: Employers are under no obligation to provide specific systems, such as air conditioning. However, they are obliged to provide drinking water that you can access easily.
The Chartered Institute of Building Services Engineers recommends the following temperatures for different types of work:
- Heavy work in factories: 13 degrees
- Light work in factories: 16 degrees
- Hospital wards and shops: 18 degrees
- Offices and dining rooms: 20 degrees
SAVVY TIP: I don’t know whether these temperatures are optimal for women or men (I’m guessing for men!). Women tend to feel the cold more than men so might prefer a warmer working environment than the temperatures recommended above. But that doesn’t mean we want to work in the sweltering heat!
Hot weather and the dress code
Many employers have a dress code, whether that’s something vague like ‘business dress’ or a specific uniform. According to ACAS (the workplace Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service), your employer doesn’t have to relax the rules around the dress code if the weather is hot. However, some do.
SAVVY TIP: If your employer doesn’t offer you the option of dressing in more hot weather-friendly clothes, ask them.
Hot weather and pregnancy
If you’re pregnant, you’ll probably struggle more (maybe a lot more) in the heat. But there’s also a potential risk to your baby in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy if your core temperature rises above 39.2 degrees. Feeling hot doesn’t mean your core temperature is rising, but you should take extra care so you don’t suffer from heat exhaustion.
SAVVY TIP: If you’re worried about your health or if you work in hot conditions, it may be worth investing in a digital thermometer, so you can keep a check on your core temperature.
What your employer should do
Once your employer knows you’re pregnant, they should assess the workplace risks that could affect you and your baby. If your workplace is hot and uncomfortable, you can ask for a risk assessment.
If you have any pregnancy-related medical conditions, such as high blood pressure, your employer must take advice from your nurse or GP into account and adjust your working conditions accordingly.
SAVVY TIP: You are entitled to more frequent rest breaks if you’re pregnant. Your employer should accommodate this.
Hot weather and menopause
Women going through the menopause or peri-menopause are likely to have more hot flushes in the summer. And they’re likely to feel (even) more uncomfortable.
Employers don’t have a specific duty towards someone who’s going through the menopause, in that it’s not automatically classed as a disability. However, they should respond positively if a woman who’s going through the menopause is having additional problems due to the hot weather. According to employment lawyers, if employers don’t ensure the workplace is suitable for someone who’s suffering because of the menopause, they could face a claim for indirect discrimination on the basis of gender or age.
Where to get advice
If your employer turns down your requests, contact ACAS’s free helpline for information on what you can do, or talk to your union rep, if you’re a member of a union. You can ring ACAS for free on 0300 123 1100. Alternatively, they have an online Q and A section which may answer your question.
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