California’s worker protections require a safe work environment for all California employees. This includes indoor and outdoor temperature regulations and laws. Parts of the state can have extremely hot summers, and certain occupations expose employees to dangerous working conditions that put them at high risk for heat stroke and other heat-related illnesses. Under the California labor code and certain regulations, employers are required to provide essential protections for employee health and safety, such as rest, shade, and water when required to work in high heat.
Employees working indoors or outdoors in excessive heat are prone to dizziness, nausea, headaches, or other symptoms of heat illness. If you are experiencing or have experienced this, and your employer is not providing their employees with sufficient opportunities for breaks and other health necessities, you could file a claim against your employer.
An unsafe temperature workplace attorney who understands local, state, and federal employment law can help you protect your rights and your safety. You could also receive compensation to cover medical harm or other damages because of your employer’s negligence.
Employers must follow all laws and regulations that protect employee rights. However, laws and regulations related to health and safety are especially important and not always as clear. If an employer fails to communicate and train employees on safety requirements, employees can be hospitalized or even die from heat illness. The welfare of employees should be held as the highest priority. Unfortunately, many employers fail to do this, and employees are subjected to unsafe working conditions.
At Clapp & Lauinger LLP, we have represented Southern California employees proudly for 30 years. Our attorneys have handled individual claims of workplace misconduct or dangerous conditions, as well as class action claims, where many employees come forward with complaints against the same employer. Our firm has successfully negotiated numerous employment claims and litigated for employees in court.
When overheated, the human body expels heat through sweating and circulation. Heat illnesses occur when the body is unable to expel heat quickly enough to maintain a healthy temperature balance. Heat illness can come in the form of heat cramps, heat exhaustion, heat stroke, and heat syncope. Manual labor and high-intensity tasks in high heat leaves a person more at risk for heat illness. Other conditions that may increase the dangers of heat-related illnesses include:
Heat-related illnesses cause excess sweating that dehydrates the body and creates excessive skin problems. This leads to symptoms such as:
Even the most minor symptoms of heat illness can lead to other accidents in the workplace. When employees are weakened or confused from heat exhaustion or other heat related illness, they may collapse or operate machinery incorrectly while in this state.
Both indoor and outdoor employees are vulnerable to high heat in California workplaces. Outdoor work environments have stronger legal protections, but outdoor workplaces still have a high likelihood of employers who violate worker rights and protections. Vulnerable indoor and outdoor employees include:
Outdoor work requires physical labor in potentially dangerous heat and sunlight, while indoor worksites can have a lack of ventilation or air conditioning in heat waves. Workplace temperature violations can lead to illness, injury, and death for both indoor and outdoor employees.
Temperature protocols and related requirements are regulated largely by the state’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA). These regulations cover both extreme heat and extreme cold.
As of 2023, Cal/OSHA heat illness prevention regulations only apply to outdoor employment. A bill was introduced in 2016 to address and regulate temperature requirements for indoor workplaces that has been stuck in the legislative process ever since. Currently, indoor regulations are laid out by the state’s Industrial Welfare Commission (IWC). Failing to adhere to these guidelines will result in civil penalties. Any conflicting state or federal laws take precedence over IWC guidelines.
Workplaces should be temperately comfortable for employees and ensure their health and safety. The IWC also requires that employees are provided with suitable seating if the work allows it. When work requires standing, adequate seats should be provided for rest breaks near their worksite. This allows employees to take the necessary rests needed to aid their bodies in the cooling down process during excessive heat.
Outdoor employment temperature regulations are maintained as law under the California Labor Code and endorsed by Cal/OSHA.
Employers are required to keep an eye on temperature predictions for workdays in advance and know when temperatures will be higher than 80 °F. When the temperature on the jobsite exceeds 80 °F, precautions need to be taken for heat. This includes:
The actions taken should reflect the temperature of the worksite. When worksite temperatures reach 95 °F, employers are required to implement the following high-heat procedures:
Employees working outdoors in the agriculture sector have additional precautions during high heat. Employers must provide employees with:
Cal/OSHA also requires that employers provide certain employees with acclimation periods. Acclimation allows the body to adapt to the heat through gradual exposure. Employees who have not worked in high heat before, or have had a break from working in high heat, require acclimation periods. If a heat wave hits suddenly, acclamation may be necessary for all employees. Without acclimation, employees are significantly more likely to develop heat-related illnesses.
Cal/OSHA defines complete acclimation for most employees as at least 2 hours each day in the heat for 4 to 14 days. During this time, acclimating individuals should be provided with ample rest, water, and shade, and they should be monitored for any signs of heat illness.
Acclimation allows the body to sweat more quickly, cooling the body more efficiently and limiting the risk of heat illness.
Employees across all industries have the right to reasonable accommodation. For mental or physical disabilities, illnesses, or injuries, employees have the right to request accommodations that allow them to complete their job duties. It is considered reasonable accommodation as long as it does not cause undue hardship to the business.
If an employee has a medical condition or disability that is worsened during extreme heat or cold, employers are required to provide reasonable accommodations for that employee. This may include additional breaks, alternate job duties that are less strenuous, or being placed in a cooler area of the workplace.
Employers are required to train their employees to recognize signs of heat-related illnesses. Additional required precautions include:
Heat illness prevention plans should be made available to employees on the job. They should be written in English and in the language predominantly spoken and read by the existing employees.
Employees who are subject to workplace temperature violations may also be suffering from other violations of their basic employee rights, particularly wage and hour violations. Common wage and hour violations may include:
Employees also have the right to a workplace and hiring process free of harassment, discrimination, retaliation, and illegal termination. If any of your basic worker’s rights have been violated, a Southern California employment attorney can determine what legal action you can take to earn compensation and back pay, among other damages.
An employer who fails to uphold basic safety requirements that endangers the health and lives of employees needs to be held accountable. Notifying your employer of the violation may provide a solution. Unfortunately, there are situations where conditions will not improve and employers will even cut back on safety precautions and requirements on purpose to save money. If you have found yourself in a dangerous working situation, a workers’ rights attorney can help you determine what the right course of action is. Your attorney may assist you with filing a complaint with Cal/OSHA or filing a claim against your employer.
Although an attorney is not required to file these claims, they do make the process faster and increase the success rate. A lawyer knows what information is necessary for a complaint or claim, how to draft the form, what evidence is needed, and if you enter negotiations or litigation against your employer, your attorney can represent you. Having an attorney by your side from the beginning saves you stress, protects your rights if your employer retaliates, and ensures that you will receive the compensation you deserve.
Every employee deserves a safe work environment. Heat illness is a hazard that can lead to hospitalization or death. It is an employer’s responsibility to protect their employees from these hazards by following the laws and regulations put in place to protect them. Employers who carelessly endanger their employees need to be held responsible. If any of your basic employee rights have been violated in Carlsbad and the Southern California area, contact Clapp & Lauinger LLP.