SUNNY WEATHER IS ON THE WAY…
…well according to the weather forecasters that is!
Let’s be positive, and assume the weather forecasters are correct, in which case a few dress code and health and safety issues arise.
During hot and humid conditions, people prefer to be comfortable and requests for fans and air conditioning (if not installed) can be made. This type of weather, combined with thoughts of forthcoming holiday plans could lead employees to adopt a more informal approach to their dress codes.
Most organisations do have dress codes, and it is in these hot spells that employees test employers as to their enforceability. Does what someone is wearing comply with the dress code? If not, would disciplinary action be justified? Should the dress code be relaxed?
RELAXATION OF THE DRESS CODE
It is believed that employees are more productive when they are comfortable and that formal dress in hot weather can cause a range of negative aspects. For example, irritability, inefficiency, lower productivity, dehydration and heat exhaustion. In light of this, many employers will relax formal dress codes to ensure reasonable comfort for workers during hot weather. However, sloppy or skimpy summer attire (for both sexes) can equally affect productivity because at an extreme level it can be distracting to co-workers. Commercial considerations also come into play as customers/clients may consider the relaxed dress code to be unprofessional and be deterred from doing business.
Bearing all this in mind, it is important that you achieve a balance between keeping your workers comfortable and maintaining an appropriate business image. If you are thinking of relaxing your dress code, you should exercise caution, ensure that any changes to the dress code are not discriminatory, decide what is and what isn't acceptable and let employees know.
Remember that casual clothing often depicts slogans or graphics – make sure that those that may be offensive are not permitted.
As always, dress codes should include a requirement that employees dress suitably / appropriately for work.
HEALTH & SAFETY MEASURES
Do remember that where your risk assessments require the use of Personal Protective Equipment, it must continue to be worn irrespective of the weather condition. In addition, personnel who work outside in the summer are potentially at risk of established long term health issues caused by too much exposure to the sun. This is not just about long term risks of skin cancer as sunstroke can become an immediate issue when the employee becomes absent on sick leave. Consequently, you should have rules and safety measures in place that protect personnel working outside. Make sure employees remain well hydrated, covered up and in some circumstances, it may be appropriate for you to provide high factor sun block and supplies of water.
Legislation does not specify a maximum temperature above which employees can legitimately decline to work. However, this does not mean employers can ignore high workplace temperatures, as they have duties of care and they should put in place reasonably practicable measures to ensure the welfare of their employees. For the most part this is common sense.
HOW TO IMPLEMENT THE CHANGES
Any changes to the dress code will need to be communicated clearly to all staff. The policy will need to be easily accessible and if it is to be a repeated policy you should think about incorporating it in the contract of Employment / Employee Handbook. Employees must be informed that a failure to adhere to the policy may be treated as a disciplinary matter and of the penalties that may result for non-compliance. Obviously a key term of the 'relaxed' code would be that such relaxation is just for specific periods as notified by management.
It may be useful to have a note on the staff notice board during the summer months to remind employees of the changes and provide guidance on what is deemed to be inappropriate attire.
Other considerations in the hot weather include enabling cold liquids to be taken, adequate ventilation, air-cooling / air-conditioning facilities - portable units are often effective in localised areas.
As always, if you have any queries, please call us for advice.