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Calls for employers to be flexible in response to heatwaves

It is an issue that probably only presents itself for a few weeks a year in Northern Ireland, but calls are being made for employers to respond accordingly to heatwaves and make sure that employees are able to work in a “cool and comfortable work environment”.

The Trades Union Congress (TUC) wants employers to be obliged to introduce protocols to deal with excessive temperatures, including:

  • Introduction of a maximum indoor temperature with varying limits depending on the nature of the job
  • Flexibility on travel times to and from work and/or the option to work from home
  • Option for employees to wear more casual clothing
  • More break opportunities for employees
  • Ready availability of cold drinks

The TUC believes that employers will see a benefit from helping employees to work more effectively in the heat, and says there is a gap in legislation that needs filled to determine when it is too hot to work.

Determining what is appropriate clothing can be difficult for employers and employees at the best of the time, especially in offices were the only options open to men are suits, or in work places were there is a set uniform that has to be designed with every weather and temperature in mind. Flexibility in work dress isn’t as easy an option for all employers, especially those that require their staff to dress for safety, with thicker materials and heavy duty footwear and other protective gear.

For the moment there is no legislation on how employers should deal with rising temperatures, but there is the wider obligation to look after the well-being of their employees. That will present different challenges to employers depending on how easily they can respond, again depending on requirements to dress safely and the ability to adjust the temperature in the workplace using air-conditioning. Employers in Northern Ireland and largely cold countries in particular should take steps to deal with rare spikes in temperature given that the workplace and uniform or dress requirements might be geared more to colder weather.

If you are an employer or employee requiring legal advice in respect of rights and obligations in the workplace from an employment solicitor in Northern Ireland contact Wilson Nesbitt in Belfast or Bangor by clicking here.

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