Find out your rights surrounding leaving work in a heatwave if it's too hot

With temperatures set to soar to heights of 34°C in parts of the UK, many will be struggling to stay cool in the sweltering heat.

And, with forecasters suggesting there could be a string of heatwaves over the next few months, it seems those without air conditioning in their workplaces will be in for a hard time.

Whether you work from home, an office, or elsewhere, there are often rumours of laws and employee rights surrounding the temperatures of the conditions you can legally work in.

So, here’s everything you need to about your chances of swapping your desk for a beer garden.

When is it too hot to work from the office?

Legally, there are no employee rights or upper limit on working temperatures from the government, meaning that you are not guaranteed the day off in hot weather.

The Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations of 1992 do not state a temperature, but say that temperature conditions must be ‘reasonable’.

However, if several employees complain, your employer is legally obliged to carry out a risk assessment.

If your employer does not do so, you can complain to an industry regulator.

While the bad news is that you can’t check the weather app every five minutes in the hopes that it’ll be ‘too hot’ to work, companies do have a duty of care to their employees.

This includes taking steps to ensure that the workplace is safe during a heatwave.

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While there isn’t a maximum temperature for the workplace as laid out by the government, the Trades Union Congress (TUC) stated that it believes a maximum temperature of 30°C should be set by employers, with a maximum of 27°C put into place for those doing strenuous work, before employees can go home.

As many areas of the UK are expected to exceed 29°C, you may want to talk to your employer about making some arrangements to ensure that you are working safely – for example, getting permission to work from home to avoid hot and stuffy public transport.

To protect yourselves in this heat, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has provided advice.


For employees

The HSE suggests following this guidance to ensure you can keep cool in warmer weather:

  • Take regular breaks and drink lots of water

  • If the heat is unbearable and enough for your colleagues complain, your boss is legally obliged to carry out a risk assessment
  • According to the TUC, the maximum temperature for a workplace is 30°C for desk work and 27°C for manual work. If your office exceeds that amount, you should be allowed to go home

For employers

  • Workplaces need to be adequately ventilated so that they remove and dilute warm and humid air
  • Frequent rest breaks should be permitted
  • Free access to cool drinking water should be available and the containers should be refilled at least daily
  • Educate workers about recognising the early symptoms of heat stress.
  • The TUC says: ‘An employer must provide a working environment which is, as far as is reasonably practical, safe and without risks to health. In addition, employers have to assess risks and introduce any necessary prevention or control measures.’


For employees

  • If work keeps you outdoors for a long time your skin could be exposed to more sun than is healthy for you
  • You should take particular care if you have: fair or freckled skin that doesn’t tan, or goes red or burns before it tans, red or fair hair and light coloured eyes, a large number of mole
  • Too much sunlight is harmful to your skin as it can cause skin damage including sunburn, blistering and skin ageing and in the long term can lead to an increased risk of skin cancer

  • You can manage your exposure to the sun by wearing high factor sunscreen, drinking lots of water and taking regular breaks in shaded areas

For employers

  • Reschedule work to cooler times of the day
  • Provide more frequent rest breaks and introduce shading to rest areas
  • Provide free access to cool drinking water
  • Introduce shading in areas where individuals are working
  • Encourage the removal of personal protective equipment when resting to help encourage heat loss
  • Educate workers about recognising the early symptoms of heat stress

During a heatwave, the NHS advises: ‘Stay out of the sun. Keep your home as cool as possible – shading windows and shutting them during the day may help. Open them when it is cooler at night.

‘Keep drinking fluids. If there’s anybody you know, for example an older person living on their own, who might be at special risk, make sure they know what to do.’

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