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Summer is Here! Dress Codes in the Workplace

As I sit in the office, sunshine streaming through the windows (not that I am complaining), fans blowing from every angle trying to inject some cool air into the office, I cannot help but wonder how many employees are uncomfortable at work right now as a result of the heat; only two days into ‘summer’.  I am under no illusion that by the time you read this article, the sunshine will have waned but, ever the optimist, hopefully we’ll see more of the glorious weather we have been treated to this weekend.

I am often asked about legal limits for temperatures in the workplace.  These simply do not exist. What does exist is Regulation 7of the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992 which states that workplace temperatures should be “reasonable”.  There is no definition of “reasonable”, however, the Health & Safety Executive does issue guidance that states workplaces should generally be at least 16 degrees centigrade, or 13 degrees if the work involves “rigorous physical effort”.  Some are often surprised to learn there isn’t a contrasting recommended maximum temperature.

The problem with temperatures in the workplace is you can guarantee in every workplace, there will be employees who sit at either end of the extremes.  One employee will want the heating up full even in the summer whilst the other wants air-conditioning or fans blowing all day long, even when temperatures fall below freezing.

Common sense should prevail in such circumstances, with management setting an ambient temperature for the office, but employers should consider whether to have a dress code, what it should include and how to deal with the extremes.

What should a dress code say?

1. A requirement for staff to dress in a manner appropriate to their working environment and the work they do.

2. Details of any staff uniform provisions.

3. Specific guidance on the use of personal protective equipment (PPE) where health and safety issues arise.

4. Ban particular types of clothing; for example, flip flops, trainers, gym or beach wear or see through clothing could all be deemed inappropriate, depending on the working environment.

5. An acceptance that religious or cultural dress may be worn unless it breaches the policy or compromises health and safety.

Dealing with extremes; keeping warm

It is much easier for the majority of employees to keep warm when the temperatures plummet. Most workplaces have heating but beware of cranking this up to a maximum to please your coldest employee as you may still have others in the office who do not feel the cold as easily.  It is of course much easier for the employee who feels the cold to layer up than it is for the employee who is always warm to remove clothing and risk being inappropriately dressed for the office.

Consider relaxing dress code rules to allow staff to keep warm.  Where possible, allow slightly more casual attire, such as jumpers, fleeces or boots in the workplace.  

Dealing with extremes; keeping cool

Keeping your employees cool is a more onerous task, especially where the workplace doesn’t benefit from air-conditioning.  The easiest way is, again, to relax a dress code and allow staff to attend work in clothing which is more casual.

If your dress code dictates formal business attire, consider allowing staff to replace their suits, ties and tights with more casual clothing when not engaged in meetings with customers or clients.  Where staff aren’t public facing, consider allowing short-sleeved shirts and conservative vest tops. Have fans available to staff who require them and ensure staff have access to cool water to keep hydrated during the working day.

Unfortunately for employers, it will be difficult to please every single employee but using your discretion to relax a dress code to help employees deal with the extremes is a good place to start.

To discuss implementing a dress code, updating one or for any other employment law enquiry, please contact me on 0113 350 4030 or at hello@scesolicitors.co.uk.

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SCE Solicitors is a boutique employment law and dispute resolution practice based in Leeds which advises clients nationwide.  Please note that the information in this blog is to provide information of general interest in a summary manner and should not be construed as individual legal advice. Readers should consult with SCE Solicitors or other professional counsel before acting on the information contained here.

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