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Legal expert busts the big HR myths

Sara Patel - Banner Jones

With temperatures in the UK reaching record levels this week, HR managers across the country have been inundated with queries from workers asking, ‘how hot is too hot to work’?

While many people assume there is a certain point at which all workers have the right to down tools, they were no doubt surprised to learn that there is no law for maximum working temperature.

Here Sara Patel, an employment law expert at Banner Jones, helps to separate the facts from the fiction, and clarifies the law and the role of employers in relation to a few of the most common workplace myths.

  1. MYTH: My employer has to send me home if it is too hot.

FACT: Despite the difficulties associated with hot working environments, there is no legal maximum safe working temperature in the UK. The only requirement is that workplace temperatures in buildings should be reasonable as set out in the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992.

CONSIDERATION: While there is no legal requirement to shut down a workplace if temperatures rise, employers should take reasonable steps to provide a reasonable safe workplace temperature and consider those most at risk. This includes, for example, those with disabilities and pregnant workers, as well as those who face additional discomfort as a result of menopause symptoms.

In addition, employers will no doubt want to create a positive, productive working environment, so making some adjustments for all workers – including altering start and finish times, allowing for more frequent breaks, and allowing people to work from home where possible – might be prudent in some cases.

  1. MYTH: Only working parents who are the primary care giver can make a flexible working request.

FACT: All employees have the legal right to request flexible working – not just parents and carers.

CONSIDERATION: Employees must have worked for the same employer for at least 26 weeks to be eligible. There are different types of flexible working and this can include: Job sharing, working from home, part-time, compressed hours, flexitime, annualised hours, staggered hours or phased retirement.

  1. MYTH: A company in financial trouble do not need to consult with staff over redundancies.

FACT: All companies, regardless of their financial and current operating status, have a duty under current employment law legislation to hold genuine and meaningful consultation with employees before making redundancies. Companies are required to follow a fair redundancy process if the employee has two years’ continuous service with them.

CONSIDERATION: Throughout the pandemic we have sadly seen many companies collapse into administration, resulting in tens of thousands of job losses.

Some of those companies will have a redundancy procedure set out in their contract or staff handbook which must be followed, or it may be a process they’ve used for previous redundancies.

There’s financial assistance available for employers who are unable to pay statutory redundancy payments. Employers can apply to the Redundancy Payments Service (RPS), part of the Insolvency Service, to make payments directly to their employees. However, they must demonstrate they have exhausted all other funding options available before applying for the scheme.

If the RPS makes statutory redundancy payments direct to employees, it will create a debt to them, and they will recover the cost of the payments from the employer in the future.

  1. MYTH: There’s a requirement to provide a contract of employment within two months of employment.

FACT: There is no legal requirement for an employee to have a written contract of employment. However, there is a requirement for employees to be given what is known as a section 1 statement setting out certain specified employment particulars. This statement was required to be provided within the first two months of employment. However, for those commencing employment on or after 06 April 2020, the majority of particulars must be given on or before the date employment commences.

CONSIDERATION: Tt is best practice to ensure that any new employee understands what they are entitled to as part of their role. For example, how much holiday they’re entitled to,  where their specified place of work is, and when they can expect to be paid. This can help prevent confusion and frustration for both parties, and can provide reassurance to workers that their employers are being consistent and fair.

  1. MYTH: Employees do not have the right to make a claim for discrimination until they have worked for a company for more than two years.

FACT: This is one of the areas where many employers trip up. Irrespective of service, an employee can make a claim for discrimination.

CONSIDERATION: There are many aspects to diversity in the workplace and making sure that the recruitment process and ongoing opportunities are equally accessible to all is very important. That’s not just because it makes for a more positive working environment, but because the financial and reputational loss involved in discrimination claims, where there is no cap on compensation, creates a serious financial imperative.

Banner Jones Employment Law team.

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