WorkLife

Our thoughts on the world of employment law - and beyond.

Getting hot under the collar – key summer employment issues

Following on from Claudia Rooney's look at summer work experience (see here), I set out some of the other key employment issues that tend to come up during the summer period:

1. Summer holidays

The summer can be a busy time for holiday requests, particularly during the school break when several employees may want to take annual leave at the same time. It can be difficult for families to balance work and childcare for the long summer holiday but it can also be difficult for an employer to satisfy all its staff and meet the needs of the business.

Whilst employees have a right to a statutory minimum amount of holiday each year, an employer can say when holiday can or cannot be taken (unless the employment contract states otherwise). For example, some employers ban staff from taking leave during busy periods for the business. Ideally, an employer should have a policy in place covering when holiday can be taken and how many people can be off work at the same time. Crucially, an employer should be fair and consistent with all staff when considering holiday requests. It may find it simplest to accept requests for holiday on a first-come, first-served basis.

It is also worth noting that staff are entitled to take reasonable time off for dependants, which can help them to deal with emergencies such as where child minding arrangements breakdown. This would be unpaid and would normally not last for more than one or two days.

2. Unauthorised absence

An employer may feel suspicious when an absence coincides with good weather. It may be that a holiday request was refused but the worker took the time off anyway, or it could be that the individual has returned late from their summer holiday. However, it is important not to jump to conclusions. Rather, in the first instance, an employer should give the worker the chance to explain and, if necessary, ask them to provide supporting evidence, such as a medical certificate in the case of sickness absence. If the explanation does not seem credible, then the employer should consider instigating its disciplinary process.

3. Office temperature

On the rare occasion we have a hot day in the UK, workers can find themselves unused to working in hot conditions. Perhaps surprisingly, there is no maximum temperature in employment law, above which an employee may refuse to work, and employers are not obliged to provide air conditioning. However, an employer is expected to provide a "reasonable" temperature for staff to work in. What is reasonable will vary depending on the type of work being done (manual, office etc.) and the type of workplace (such as a bakery, an office or a warehouse).

An employer must also provide its staff with suitable drinking water. ACAS recommends that employers are particularly mindful of workers who are young, older, pregnant or on medication, who may be especially affected by the hot weather, and consider giving them frequent rest breaks, provide fans or portable air cooling units.

4. Dress codes

An employer may permit workers to wear more casual clothes or allow "dress down" days during periods of hot weather. However, there is no obligation on it to do so and it may need to insist on a particular dress code for health and safety reasons (such as where personal protective equipment is required) or that a uniform is worn to comply with a certain corporate image. Any relaxation to the dress code should be applied fairly and consistently, to ensure no one group of workers is discriminated against.

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