An orange city skyline under a hot sun - How does heat affect California law for employers?

By Lily Nhan, Esq.

This past July 4th was Earth’s hottest day on record since 1979, reaching the global average temperature of 62.92 degrees Fahrenheit. Currently, European countries like Spain, Greece, and Italy are being gripped by a deadly heatwave named ‘Cerberus.’ The heatwave’s namesake is the three-headed dog guarding the underworld in Dante’s Inferno, which is Italian for “Hell.” In areas in California, such as Death Valley and Central Valley, temperatures are surpassing 130 degrees Fahrenheit and are expected to get worse as summer continues.

For some, this heat wave is welcomed with tanned, open arms as it instantly brightens moods. It motivates people to go outdoors, travel, picnic, engage in water sports, and other summer festivities. For others, the heat wave brings exhaustion and lethargy and makes them feel like a burnt egg sizzling on a frying pan.

Regardless of our personal opinions about the heat, extreme heat can be dangerous. For this reason, the heat has made its way into several areas of California law.

Heat-Related Law For California Employers

Cal/OSHA Workplace Requirements

Cal/OSHA requires that all California employers protect their employees from heat illnesses in indoor and outdoor settings.

Cal/OSHA’s heat illness prevention standard (Section §3395) applies to all outdoor worksites. The law requires that employers provide outdoor workers fresh water, access to shade at 80 degrees, and cool-down rest breaks when requested, in addition to regular breaks, as well as have a written prevention policy with training on the signs of heat illness and what to do in case of an emergency. The permissible worksite temperature varies on the industry.

Cal/OSHA’s heat illness prevention standard (Section §3396) applies to all indoor worksites where the temperature or heat index equals or exceeds 87 degrees Fahrenheit when employees are present. These indoor worksites are required1 to provide employees with access to potable drinking water, have cool-down areas, use control measures to minimize the risk of heat illness, and implement effective response procedures.

There are other requirements for maintaining a safe workplace, but these laws in particular specifically address extreme heat. For more information, please contact us Bradley, Gmelich + Wellerstein LLP to assist with ensuring your business is compliant in combating the heat wave.

Premises Liability and Negligence

Hot weather can also potentially create additional personal injury risks for businesses. To combat the heat, supermarkets, shopping centers, restaurants, retailers, and warehouses require constant, powerful cooling in order to keep products fresh and also to create a comfortable experience for the business invitees. However, air conditioners and freezers can break down or fail, causing leaks or potential fire hazards. Specifically, these cooling systems can leak water if they are clogged or damaged, thereby creating a potential slipping hazard. A leak could start as a small drip but then quickly grow within minutes.

As such, businesses are recommended to have a policy specifically to inspect and maintain the cooling mechanisms, such as air conditioning and refrigeration units, in addition to a business owner’s responsibility to perform routine inspections for slipping hazards. These cleaning and inspection policies and procedures can help businesses reduce the incidents of slipping hazards caused by leaking air conditioners and freezers. Moreover, evidence that a business has adequate policies in place for the service of air-conditioning units and inspection of the sales floor could demonstrate reasonable care.

“Heat Ready CA”

The heat wave we are currently experiencing is a hot topic. Even now, the California government is creating new programs and policies to combat the dangers of excessive heat exposure.

On July 11, 2023, California’s Governor Gavin Newsom launched a campaign called “Heat Ready CA.” This is an awareness campaign that educates Californians on how to stay safe during the extreme heat. “Heat Ready CA” provides potentially life-saving tips to stay safe during extreme heat events such as the following:

  1. Stay cool. Close shades, windows, and blinds. Set air conditioners between 75 and 80 degrees. If air-conditioning isn’t available, find a local cooling center or other air-conditioned public space (libraries, shopping malls, community centers, etc.). Try to stay indoors and wear loose, light-colored, lightweight clothing. While spending time in the water is refreshing on hot summer days, many California rivers are running faster, while lakes are deeper and colder than they’ve been in recent years. This makes them more dangerous than normal, even for strong swimmers.
  2. Stay hydrated. Drink at least 2 cups of water every hour even if you’re not feeling thirsty. Avoid alcoholic or caffeinated drinks.
  3. Look after each other. Check-in on friends and family, especially elderly relatives or neighbors. Call 911 if there are signs of high fever (103°F or higher) or in case of other emergencies.

Staying Cool

At Bradley, Gmelich + Wellerstein LLP, we hope that you all stay cool as a cucumber and beat the summer heat wave. Please share your tips with us on what has worked for you, or ask us to assist with your business and your needs.

1 For more information on Section 3396, please visit

Lily Nhan, Esq. - BG+W Lawyers - Glendale, CAAbout the Author

Lily Nhan, Esq. has extensive litigation experience involving premises liability, business litigation, motor vehicle collisions, dog bites, construction defect, catastrophic injuries, and wrongful death. Her litigation experience working for both the plaintiff and defense bar has contributed to her success in achieving outstanding resolutions for her clients, which she defends both strategically and passionately to achieve favorable resolutions to civil claims.

Ms. Nhan takes pride in representing a variety of individuals and businesses in different areas of the law. In addition to her personal injury defense background, Ms. Nhan also has unique specialized experience representing Chinese clients in a large variety of business disputes.

Ms. Nhan is fluent in Mandarin Chinese and is a member of the Association of Southern California Defense Counsel, Glendale Bar Association, and Asian Pacific American Bar Association of Los Angeles. She has been recognized by Pasadena Magazine’s “Top Attorneys” issue as one of the Top Attorneys in personal injury practice in 2013-2014 and 2017-2018.