Global warming or not, this summer is setting records for high temperatures across the country. Employees who work outside are affected as well as those who work in warehouse and factory settings where air condition may be non existent or inadequate in the this year's heat. Employers need to remember they have more than a moral duty to their employees who are affected by the heat; they have a legal duty. An employer has a general duty under OSHA to provide a work place free of recognized hazards. Heat stress is recognized as a hazard. OSHA has a campaign to prevent heat illness. OSHA has also has a page on its website which addresses what employers need to be aware of and what actions should be taken to minimize the likelihood of heat stress related illnesses. In addition to obligations under OSHA, employers need to be aware of the protection that employees have if they complain about the heat and their working conditions. Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act protects employees who engage in protected, concerted activity. The Board recently created a page on its website dedicated to the topic with definitions and examples of protected, concerted activity. In the age of social media and feedback, it is only a matter of time before we hire of employees being disciplined for complaining in social media about heat and work and the employers inaction to address employee complaints. If you go to the NLRB protected, concerted activity page and clicks on Puerto Rico on the map, you can read about a group of workers who walked off work during a thunderstorm, and the action the Board took on their behalf. How will an employer respond to a group of employees who walk off the job after complaints about the heat are not addressed? An employer who summarily discharges the group runs the risk of defending itself in a Board proceeding. Cases are fact dependent and how the employer responded before the walk out will be critical.We are half way through summer, and the forecast is for more record heat. Employers need to review how they are responding to and trying to limit the impact of the heat on their employees. A collaborative approach with employees to address specific issues will avoid problems later on.
For additional Labor and Employment law insights from John Holmquist, visit the Michigan Employment Law Connection.
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