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Four Seasons in One Day – Legal implications of being cauld at work By Jack Boyle, Associate Solicitor at Blackadders LLP

Posted: 18th September 2018

I overheard a discussion in the office kitchen the other day which got me to thinking about the legal implications of temperature.  Two of my colleagues were chatting about the temperature and asking why the central heating hadn’t yet been fired up… in September.  We were indeed spoiled by an unseasonably hot summer.   Now that summer is a distant memory are we more likely to feel the pinch as the season changes?

The Law
The Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992 place a legal obligation on employers to provide a reasonable temperature inside buildings in the “workplace”.

Code of Practice
The HSE (Health & Safety Executive) approved Code of Practice states that employers should take all reasonable steps to achieve a comfortable temperature without the need for special clothing.  Where hot or cold processes render it impracticable to achieve such a temperature, all reasonable steps should be taken to achieve a temperature which is as close as possible to comfortable.  The temperature in workrooms should normally be at least 16 degrees Celsius unless much of the work involves physical activity in which case the temperature in workrooms should normally be at least 13 degrees.  The Code of Practice goes on to suggest that these suggested temperatures do not apply to rooms where it would be impractical to maintain those temperatures.  For example where a room has to be open to the outside (thinking of my poor brother who works in a garage) or where other products have to be kept cold.  In such cases, the temperature should be as close to the suggested temperatures as practicable.

Where a reasonably comfortable workroom temperature cannot be achieved throughout a workroom, local heating should be supplied.  Draughts should be excluded where practical.  Where, despite the provision of local heating, workers are exposed to temperatures which do not provide reasonable comfort, suitable protective clothing and rest facilities should be provided.

Risk of claims?
Remember that there is a term implied into all employment contracts that the employer provide a safe working environment.  A breach of this implied term can give rise to an employee resigning and pursuing a claim of constructive dismissal.  Where an employee is exposed to unreasonable workplace temperatures, they could resign and claim constructive dismissal.

We also need to watch out for automatically unfair dismissal.  Employees can pursue such a claim even if they have less than the two years’ service for “ordinary” unfair dismissal.  As an example, if an employee walks out of the workplace in circumstances of danger which the employee reasonably believed to be serious, and they are dismissed for that reason, section 100 of the Employment Rights Act 1996 renders the dismissal automatically unfair.  The legal test is whether the act of walking out is the sole or principal reason for the dismissal (the burden of proof being with the employee).

Keep an eye on your workplace temperatures as we move through the seasons.  If it is not practicable to maintain a reasonable or comfortable temperature, take all reasonable steps such as:-

  • temporary heaters;
  • suitable rest facilities; and
  • protective (cosy) clothes.

If you are a cold tattie, take a leaf out of @CorpLawyerRich’s book and get the long johns on.
For the avoidance of doubt, the temperature in Blackadders is an ambient 19oC.  The Employment Team are all in short-sleeved shirts!

Jack Boyle, Associate Solicitor
Employment Law
Blackadders LLP

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