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How Summer Can Make Employers Hot Under The Collar

Most of us love the summer; longer days, brighter light, warmth, outside living, feeling a bit more energetic – it puts a smile on everyone’s face. We love the sunshine, though every so often it can get a bit too warm. If we’re sweltering over a hot computer (or whatever) it can start to have an adverse effect. And when the warm weather arrives, you may find some employees start to push the boundaries of the work place dress code.

During the warmest days of the year it is reasonable for employers to relax the dress code. This isn’t to say that employees can come to work in hot pants, crop tops and flip flops. It is important that employees are comfortable, as they will perform better, but there is a need to maintain an appropriate business image. Put your summer dress code in writing; remind employees that they need to dress appropriately for work, especially those who work with clients or are customer facing.

You may be able to stem the tide of spaghetti straps and man sandals, but a business casual dress code will always be open to interpretation so you need to be fairly to be prescriptive as to what is acceptable if you’re to avoid become the fashion police.

It is often easier to say what is not appropriate, for example; strappy vests, offensive t-shirts and short skirts and shorts are the obvious ones. Open-toed shoes and flip flops will breach health and safety in many work places, as well as flip flops looking very casual; this rule will very much depend on the work environment. Skirts and dresses should stay at an appropriate length, usually just above the knee. Short sleeves are appropriate but vests, crop tops and halter-neck tops are not. Whilst it may be appropriate for men to take their tie off and undo the top button, it is not appropriate to have their shirt half undone like Keith Lemon to keep cool. Many employers also request that women wear hosiery at all times, again this could be relaxed for those who are not customer facing or dealing with clients. Relaxing the dress code may mean that tattoos and piercings become more visible, and it may therefore be appropriate in some types of workplace to remind staff that these should be covered up or in the case of piercings, removed.

Give guidance to those who do not meet the dress code requirement and if the employee still fails to do so you’ll have to take disciplinary action. Employees must know they are in breach of the policy before disciplinary action is taken.

There has been much talk over the years about the concept of “sartorial discrimination” where it is considered that women have more freedom to wear more casual clothing in the workplace than men. In 2003 a civil servant successfully complained about the fact that he was made to wear a collar and tie to work when women did not have to dress in this way. The rules is not an item by item comparison but a difference in the levels of dress code required.

In most cases it has been found that differentiating dress codes between men and women are not anti-discriminatory on the basis that although the clothing worn has been different, both men and women have been required to dress to the same degree of formality, and therefore neither has been treated less favourably (a requirement needed to prove a successful discrimination claim).

Staff should come to work prepared that although the dress code has been relaxed they still need to maintain standards and be prepared that they may have to meet with clients or customers at short notice. Employees should keep a jacket, tie, hosiery and an extra pair of shoes with them just in case they have to meet clients at short notice. The workplace should be productive and safe, no dress code should stop that, if it does, it may be time to revisit it.

If you need help sorting out your summer dress code give us a call.

Russell HR Consulting provides expert knowledge in HR solutions, employment law training and HR tools and resources to businesses across the UK.

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