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What employees in France should know about working rules in a heatwave

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What employees in France should know about working rules in a heatwave
Photo: AFP
08:21 CEST+02:00
As a second heatwave hits France and dozens of départements are on weather alerts, we take a look at the employment laws surrounding extreme heat.

As the high temperatures roll in and the government issues health warnings, the lucky ones will be either heading to the beach or sitting in the shade with a good book and a nicely chilled soft drink while the less fortunate souls will be at work as usual. But is it ever legally too hot to work in France?

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What are my rights at work?

Well the bad news is that the code du travail (Labour Code) which governs every aspect of working life in France doesn't specifically mention heat, so it's no good just waving a thermometre at your boss and walking out. However, article L4121 of the code does require that employers put in place "the necessary measures to ensure the safety and protect the health" of their workers, and this could relate to heat. 

"The heatwave is not, in itself, a reason for the country to stop working," Eric Rocheblave, a lawyer specialising in employment law, told Le Parisien.

However several studies have shown that doing physical work at above 33C can prove dangerous to health if no precautions are taken.

So it depends on my job?

Right. If, to take a random example, your job involves sitting in an air conditioned office writing stories about the heatwave, then there is no justification to down tools and head to the park.

But even for office workers employers are expected to take steps to ensure employees are comfortable, for example by supplying fans and making sure there is a supply of drinking water. If no action is taken - despite warnings in advance from weather forecasters - and employees are suffering from the heat then employers are at fault.

For people doing physical work or work in the open air, employers will be expected to take extra measures to ensure their health is not affected by the heat, and this could include offering longer breaks, providing a cool space for people to take breaks in or changing working hours so that people are not outside during the hottest part of the day.

So if my boss isn't doing any of that I can walk out?

Not straight away, first you must talk to your boss about the issue. You need to be able to demonstrate that you are suffering from the heat, that the heat was an expected event and that your boss has done nothing to improve the conditions for his employees. Only then can you move on to more direct action. So for example if you are doing physical work outside, it's 40C and boss tells you to keep working right through the hottest part of the day, despite you telling him or her that you are suffering, you may be justified in refusing to work. 

Mr Rocheblave warned: "Not all employees can exercise their right of withdrawal just because it has been announced that there is a heatwave: they must be confronted with a potentially dangerous situation, and must demonstrate that their health is in danger."

 
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