Know Your Rights: What to Do When It's Too Hot to Work

Here's everything you should know when it's too hot to work.

Reviewed by Melina Theodorou

worker with a fan feeling too hot to work

The sun has finally come out to play but, sadly, it’s on a dreaded weekday (again!) and you have to drag your lethargic self into work. But just the simple thought of sweltering in a cubicle or, even worse, out in the direct sunlight, for eight hours, is making you want to stay in bed.

You’d think that there’s a piece of legislation that can get you out of this one and beat the rising temperatures in the hotbox that you call an office – but, sadly, there isn’t. That said, you still have some basic rights as an employee.

Here we answer all your questions and provide you with insightful tips on what to do when it’s too hot to work.

When is it too hot to work?

While there is a minimum working temperature in the the USA, there are no legal requirements for a maximum temperature. What the law does state, though, is that “employers are obligated to provide a reasonable temperature in the workplace.”

The Occupational Safety and Health Organization (OSHA), offers heat exposure recommendations to better protect employees from too much heat and provides applicable advice for employers. However, it’s important to note that while specific temperature heat exposure standards are not defined at a federal level, some states such as California, Minnesota, and Washington, have temperature requirements that employers must follow.

Can I leave work if it’s too hot?

There is no direct answer to this question because, evidently, it all boils down to your employer. However, if the air is not fresh and clean, and several staff members feel uncomfortable working in these conditions, then you should ask your employer to provide appropriate measures. While there may not be specific laws on temperature, as we have seen, OSHA does require an employer to provide a workplace free from serious recognized hazards - extreme heat could fall under that category.

If your employer doesn’t agree to your request for time off or take appropriate measures to address the heat, you can request to work remotely or take a sick day if you are unable to work under the current circumstances.

When it comes to working outside, OSHA has compiled a number of case studies to determine the best course of action for employees such as: roofing workers, delivery drivers and foundry workers to avoid heat related issues.

Whether you’re working inside or outside, if it’s too hot to work, review our tips below to beat the heat and stay safe!

How hot does it have to be before I can complain?

As mentioned previously, there is no set maximum temperature, and there’s no legal requirement as to when you can complain about a hot working environment. But bear in mind that this doesn’t mean you should keep quiet if it’s affecting you physically.

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), allows employees to request reasonable accommodation should you need one due to medical reasons. If you’re more vulnerable to the heat due to an illness, for example, you need to disclose your medical information to your employer so that all the necessary measures are taken to avoid putting your health at risk. It’s the same if you need to wear protective and heavy equipment to carry out your job; your employer must take this into consideration.

How can I beat the heat?

The following hacks will help you take control and beat the scorching weather:

1. Use a cooling spray

Keep a cooling spray in your desk drawer and give yourself a spritz when you’re feeling overheated. Cooling sprays contain menthol, which is what tricks your brain into thinking that you’re colder than what you are.

And if you’re worried about ruining your makeup – don’t! They actually work as a setting spray to keep your face hydrated as well as keep your makeup in place.

2. Ask for a desk fan

It might be a good idea to ask your boss for a desk fan, especially if you’re finding it hard to get through the day. That way, while your office mates are enjoying the heat, you get to enjoy a little breeze – and no more fighting over the air conditioning unit!

3. Wear breathable fabrics

Your choice of outfit plays one of the leading roles in surviving an extra hot day at work, and the type of fabric you go for can be your make or break. Choose some summer work outfits; some lightweight clothing that’s either linen, cotton, seersucker, chambray, rayon or even silk. Whatever you do, stay away from grey – it will just make those unavoidable sweat patches super noticeable – and you don’t want to be remembered as the Sweat Patch Guy, do you?

4. Stay hydrated

Allowing yourself to become dehydrated in hot weather is dangerous and can lead to all sorts of serious heat-related illnesses. Even if you’re snowed under a pile of papers or you’re rushing to and from meetings, make sure you’ve got a bottle of water with you to take frequent sips (even if you aren’t thirsty). When you drink water, though, it helps replenish the fluids lost through perspiration and can increase your productivity along the way!

5. Take frequent breaks

The heat can make you restless, lethargic and less efficient, which really won’t help with your workflow. In other words, take frequent breaks to keep your productivity levels high, even if that means popping into the break room for a glass of cold water to bring you back to your senses.

6. Run your wrists under cold water

If you’re really feeling the heat, you could try running your wrists under cold water or placing an ice pack on them. As one of your pulse points is on your wrist, it means that the blood vessels are closer to your skin, which makes your wrists a quick access to cooling down your body temperature. Don’t believe us? Go ahead and give it a try!

7. Slow down

The work needs to get done, we aren’t saying to avoid it, but perhaps adjust your pace when specifically strenuous activities are completed. If you’re able to, complete more of the manual labor parts of your job in the early mornings or even during the cooler months all together. Desperate times call for desperate measures; by slowing down your body won’t generate as much heat during the hottest times of the day.

8. Keep the curtains drawn

Radiant heat can sneak up on you no matter what you do, so close the curtains or blinds when possible. You may enjoy the sunlight and feel it helps you work better; if that’s the case, refer back to the fifth point of this list and take your break outside. By keep those curtains and blinds shut, you can keep the inside at a better temperature.

9. Turn off the lights

Lights generate a lot of heat, and we are trying to avoid additional heat contributors at all costs. Now, with the curtains closed and the lights off, it may be difficult to see everything you need to for your job. Consider a desk light or small lamp that won’t project as much heat if you need additional light.

10. Avoid caffeine

While it may be tempting to get your morning cup of coffee, caffeine can raise your core body temperature, even if it’s not a hot beverage. Perhaps it’s time to see how well you can function with just some water and avoid overheating. Sacrifices must be made when it’s too hot to work!

What can my employer do to make the workplace more bearable during a heatwave?

During hot weather, employers need to make the workplace as bearable as possible. If you aren’t allowed to work remotely or leave early (to avoid peak heat hours), then they should find ways to get you through the day. This could be by providing cold drinks and snacks, sunscreen for those that work outside, or cooling appliances like fans or air conditioning units.

What health hazards should I look out for?

Occasionally, the heat can affect you without you even realizing it, and you could end up suffering from heat stress and a sunstroke, which can be fatal if not treated. If you experience sudden and severe fatigue, nausea, dizziness, light-headedness, and heavy perspiration, you should contact a medical professional immediately.

Some heal-related illnesses you could encounter are:

  • Heat stroke
  • Heat exhaustion
  • Heat cramps
  • Heat syncope
  • Heat rash
  • Rhabdomyolysis (muscle breakdown)

Take good care of yourself and make sure to be diligent when heat is involved.

What are the signs and symptoms of heat stress?

Now that we’ve reviewed some health-related illnesses you could encounter, let’s look into some symptoms cause by heat stress:

  • Muscle pain
  • Dark urine or reduced urine output
  • Weakness
  • Cluster of red bumps on skin
  • Dizziness
  • Fainting
  • Muscle spasms
  • Irritability
  • Thirst
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Heavy sweating
  • Elevated body temperature
  • Fast heart rate
  • Confusion
  • Slurred speech
  • Unconsciousness
  • Seizures

It’s important to be able to recognize these signs and symptoms. OSHA advices management teams to commit to recognizing heat hazards, and also advices employees to step up and recognize them individually and ask for help when needed.

Key takeaways

It’s been proven that after several days of working in the heat, your body temperature will begin to adapt and will find coping methods so that you can get on with your normal duties. As you’re navigating the heat, remember:

  • Use our 10 tips above to beat the heat and focus on implementing them in your hot work environment.
  • Ask your employer to make your workplace more bearable - you have every right to a safe working environment, so speak up!
  • Know the signs and symptoms of heat-related illnesses and don’t avoid them or try to ignore them.

Have you ever had to get through a really hot day at work? If so, join the conversation below and let us know what your coping methods were.

This article is an updated version of an earlier article originally published on July 12, 2018. Updated by Shalie Reich.