The HR Challenges of a Heatwave

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HR Challenges of a Heatwave

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The HR Challenges of a heatwave.

So typically British – we are only happy when we’re talking about the weather.

The Summer also poses challenges for those that aren’t on holiday – they are stuck inside and may be covering colleagues and having to deal with stuffy offices with poor Air Con, windows that don’t stay open and rising temperatures and Government warnings about a heatwave.

So what are the issues and what are the answers to the questions frequently being asked?

Question – what is the maximum temperature for working in an office?

Answer – whilst there is no upper limit, our Health and Safety friends will tell us that it comes down to what is deemed as “reasonable”. It will depend on various factors including the nature of the work being done and the environment – does it have good ventilation, can the temperature be sensibly controlled? In the absence of a specific temperature, it puts a burden on employers to take reasonable steps to ensure that the working environment is not a hot house and when it is clear that there is going to be a prolonged heatwave, source portable AC units, buy extra fans and make sure there is access to cool drinking water – keep the water coolers going!

Question – can the dress code rules be relaxed during the Summer?

Answer – Yes, of course. But this needs careful management and control. Different people will interpret dress codes in widely different ways so if you want to take a relaxed approach during the hot weather, be very clear what is permitted. Make it crystal clear what is NOT allowed or you will need to brace yourself for some awkward conversations.

Also be mindful that you may have customers or clients visiting the premises and their impression of the business may be influenced by the way people are dressed.

Dress codes can be very emotive and cause such unnecessary excitement so ensure the rules are applied sensibly and consistently across Departments and also mindful of discrimination issues.

Finally, if you relax the dress code for a heatwave, make it clear that this is only a temporary arrangement.

Question – what if employees are taking time off sick during the Summer?

Answer – the usual rules apply about self-certification and the need for medical certification. But, if you are suspicious, you are entitled to challenge employees about their absence through the return to work process but if they have a Doctor’s note, just remember that a clinician has certified that they are unfit to work. Similarly, if there are persistent offenders, they should be dealt with in accordance with your normal rules for persistent absenteeism, regardless of a heatwave.

Also remember that many employees will suffer from hay fever and will manage this by taking tablets which will probably cause drowsiness.

Question – how do I manage employee holiday entitlements through the Summer months?

Answer – By planning ahead! Also by having rules and controls in place to ensure that the operations of the business are not compromised or adversely impacted. Such controls may include ensuring that employees are required to give notice of their intention to take holiday, limiting the number of people off at any one time in a Department, putting a limit on the number of days that can be taken in one block. Most Companies have a maximum of 10 days in place but this can always be subject to management discretion and taking into account the specific circumstances.

It is also possible to manage holiday entitlement such that employee are required to take a certain amount of days at certain times of the year but such controls must be communicated up front and form part of their terms and conditions.

When the temperatures start to soar, employees will not want to be imprisoned in an office or at work but it is a fact of life and – as they say – life goes on. There is an old fashioned technique called “communication” – so, in the spirit of employee engagement, talk to your people and find out from them what the issues are and they may have some very practical suggestions about how to keep the business going through the long hot summer.

Work from home and the heatwave…

Hundreds of thousands of employees will be working from home or flexibly during the hot weather and this will cause resentment in some Companies where some people are doing jobs that can be done remotely and others have no choice.

If you allow employees to work remotely, the business has made that judgement and must trust the employees who have been given that option. Just because you can hear seagulls in the background when they’re on the phone doesn’t mean that they have sneaked off to the beach – they may be sat in their back garden.

Above all, take a sensible approach and apply common sense – it works!

 Adrian Berwick offers HR support to business and if you want any advice or guidance on the issues raised in this article, please either contact me on 07885 714771 or

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