Federal and state labor laws cover many types of workplaces, including a general business office. Although an office environment is typically free from the extremes of heat and cold that can be experienced in outdoor working conditions, an office that is uncomfortably warm or cold can adversely affect worker productivity. However, unless the temperature is low or high enough to present a health hazard, labor laws generally do not apply to office temperature.
Federal labor laws regarding health and safety issues in the workplace are enforced by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. As part of enforcing the law, OSHA sets standards that apply to specific industries, such as construction and agriculture, as well as standards the generally apply to all industries. OSHA does not have a specific standard regarding the temperature required for a business office so that workers are not uncomfortably warm or cold. The only standard that may apply to office temperatures is OSHA's General Duty standard, which requires employers to keep the workplace free of hazards that cause or could cause serious injury or death to employees. For this standard to apply to an office that lacks heat, the office temperature would have to be low enough to cause a cold-related injury such as frostbite or hypothermia.
In addition to setting standards that employers are obligated to follow, OSHA also issues nonbinding guidelines and recommendations for employers. These guidelines and recommendations are commonly issued in the form of letter interpretations when an employer submits a request for clarification of OSHA standards. In February 2003, OSHA issued a letter interpretation regarding office air quality investigations that included guidelines on office temperature. OSHA recommended that office temperatures be maintained from 68 to 76 degrees Fahrenheit, with humidity from 20 to 60 percent.
Employers throughout the country are generally subject to OSHA standards, except in those states that enacted an OSHA-approved safety and health plan. To obtain approval, the state plan must meet or exceed OSHA standards. Among the states with approved plans, California enacted labor standards that address the issue of office temperatures. For example, California employers are required to maintain workplace temperatures that provide reasonable comfort consistent with standards used in the employer's industry. If the workplace experiences excessive heat or humidity, the employer must take action to reduce the heat or humidity to comfortable levels. For workplaces that require a temperature less than 60 degrees Fahrenheit, such as in a freezer at a grocery store, a separate room must be provided with a temperature of at least 68 degrees Fahrenheit where employees can go for warmth.
Although OSHA does not generally require employers to maintain their offices at specific temperatures, OSHA does set standards for indoor air quality regarding such pollutants as gases, fibers and smoke. OSHA also investigates employee complaints regarding indoor quality. As part of an air quality investigation, OSHA reviews the workplace air treatment -- which the agency defines as the removal of air contaminants and/or the control of temperature and humidity. If OSHA finds the indoor air quality for an office below standards, OSHA may require the employer to maintain office temperatures within a specified range as part of abating the problem.
Joe Stone is a freelance writer in California who has been writing professionally since 2005. His articles have been published on LIVESTRONG.COM, SFgate.com and Chron.com. He also has experience in background investigations and spent almost two decades in legal practice. Stone received his law degree from Southwestern University School of Law and a Bachelor of Arts in philosophy from California State University, Los Angeles.