Radiators or air conditioner turned off at work, what can the employee do?

Working in a cold place is certainly not an optimal condition for the employee: so much so that – just as when it is too hot – the regulations that protect safety in the workplace come into play.
Radiators off, no air conditioner capable of heating the environment: at this time of year it is not uncommon to come across unwelcoming workplaces, especially in those very large buildings where the costs for efficient heating can be particularly high for the 'agency.
However, it must be said that turning on the radiators in winter is not necessarily an obligation for the employer, the important thing is that the environment complies with workplace safety regulations, ensuring an ideal temperature.
Starting from article 2087 of the Civil Code which obliges the employer to protect the health and physical and moral integrity of its employees, in addition to Legislative Decree no.
81 of 2008, the so-called Consolidated Law on Safety, which contains all the rules that regulate the protection of the health and safety of workers in the workplace.
In particular, it is Annex IV of the Consolidated Law that we must take as a reference to answer the question whether it is lawful not to turn on (or not to have them at all) radiators at work, as well as any other source of heating: it is here, in fact, that talks about thermal stress, i.e.
the condition that occurs when the body's thermoregulation system fails (which can happen due to both too much heat and too much cold).
Let's see what the rules provide for the so-called microclimate in work environments, and in which cases it is a worker's right to have radiators or air conditioners working regularly.
read also Safety at work, what the law says: rules, duties and behaviors The ideal temperature in the office It is the employer who must guarantee the worker's right to protect their health in the office.
As anticipated, it is an annex to the 2008 decree on health and safety in the workplace that determines the general criteria on the microclimate in working environments.
Here you will find indications for the temperature in the office, establishing that: the temperature of the work spaces must be adequate for the human organism during working hours, taking into account the working methods used and the physical efforts of the workers; the temperature of rest rooms, rooms for security personnel, toilets, canteens and first aid rooms must comply with the actual destination of said rooms; where it is not possible to change the temperature of the entire environment, the employer must provide for the protection of workers against temperatures that are too low, through specific technical measures or personal means of protection.
It must be said that these are obligations with rather generic contents: however, on the basis of the clarifications made in recent years, especially in case law, we can believe that the optimal temperature level in the office is usually between 19 and 24 degrees centigrade, while the humidity must be between 40 and 60%.
According to the Ministry of Health, however, to talk about a cold environment it must be below 15 degrees centigrade.
What to do if it is too cold at work According to what has been established by the Supreme Court, the absence of the worker is justified, who does not go to the workplace if the environment is cold and humid (sentence no.
6631/ 2015).
The employer is still obliged to pay him wages even on the days or hours of absence, and this for the simple fact that the failure to perform the work is due precisely to the failure to protect health in the workplace.
Also pay attention to this detail: it is not necessary for a group of workers to have called a sort of "strike due to the cold", because even just one of the workers is enough to have chosen not to go to the office due to the low temperatures and the heating system turned off or broken.
However, it is true that the decrease in temperature must be significant, that is, there must still be a proportion between the employer's failure to comply and the employee's reaction.
Only if the working environment is truly unhealthy is it possible to be absent without risk of disciplinary sanctions or salary reductions.
In other words, the subjective perceptions of the cold of those who, perhaps being more sensitive to the cold than others, could remedy this by dressing more appropriately to their needs are not important.
It is clear that in the event of a dispute in court, just like the one judged by the Court of Cassation, the worker will have to bring to court every element capable of proving that the temperature in the office is too low.
Let us therefore not forget that the worker is entitled to file a service lawsuit against the company that forced him to work in an environment with excessively low and humid temperatures.
But be careful: in order to obtain compensation for the damage suffered, it is necessary to prove that the pathology or health problem arose solely from the inadequate conditions of the office and not from other factors (such as the worker's previous health conditions).
When you can refuse to work In summary, can we say that radiators or other forms of heating are mandatory for the company in any case? Absolutely not, the important thing is that the environment is still suitable to guarantee a comfortable situation for the worker.
For example, if a room is small enough to maintain a constant temperature between 16 and 18 degrees even without heating, the employer can also save on the cost of radiators.
Obviously these are often two situations linked to each other: it is obvious that when it is too cold only a form of heating can make the environment healthy.
However, to refuse to work it must be really cold: for example, as specified by the Ministry of Health, a work environment is considered cold when the ambient temperatures are below 15° C.
This is therefore the threshold that we can take as a reference, below which the worker can refuse to carry out the work activity without risking a disciplinary sanction.
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Author: A.W.M.

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