Know Your Rights: When Is it Too Hot to Work?

Businessman feeling hot and cooling down in front of fan

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 UK, as well as in the USA, there are no legal requirements on a maximum temperature. What the law does state, though, is that ‘employers are obligated to provide a reasonable temperature in the workplace’.

The Trades Union Congress (TUC) is pushing to make it illegal for office and factory employees to work in temperatures over 30C and are eager to put measures in place for outside workers. They are trying to introduce processes so as to ensure that no worker is left feeling ‘hot under the collar’. These measures include air cooling systems, sunscreen for outside workers and a supply of cool drinks.

Do I Have the Right to 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 a number of staff members feel uncomfortable working in hot conditions, then you do have the right to ask your employer to provide appropriate measures.

If they don’t, you can request to work remotely or take a sick day – if you really aren’t able to work in such circumstances.

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. That said, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) explains that ‘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’.

If you’re more vulnerable to the heat due to an illness, for example, you need to bring this to your employer’s attention so that all the necessary measures are taken, before your health is put at risk. Likewise, if you need to wear protective and heavy equipment to carry out your job, your employer needs to also 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 officemates 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 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 get 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 your body’s hot, it sends blood flow to the skin, which then makes you sweat. When you drink water, though, it helps replenish the fluids lost through perspiration.

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 an ice lolly or 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!

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 (during 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 realising it, and you could end up suffering from heat stress and 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.

It’s been proven that after a number of 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. But if the heatwave is only for a couple of days, you need to make sure you’re doing everything to keep yourself comfortable. And if it gets a little too hot, at least now you know what you’re entitled to.

Have you managed to get through a really hot day at work? If so, join the conversation below and let us know what your coping methods are…