Summer dress codes: the legalities
When the weather heats up, employees may start questioning the law regarding the enforcement of dress codes due to higher temperatures in the workplace. There is no maximum specified temperature for the workplace and, during the recent heat wave, GMB union announced they would tell all their male members to wear dresses to work after a hospital porter was suspended from work because he rolled his trousers up.
With the House of Commons relaxing their normally strict dress code to allow MPs to wear shirts without ties, is there any requirement for employers to do this too?
Implementing the normal dress codes
Company dress codes are generally stipulated in a policy contained in the employee handbook. In many companies, the code will set out a requirement for formal, professional dress for both male and female staff. It may go even further and specify that items such as ties have to be worn by males.
The business reasons for a formal dress code are numerous and varied, with reasons such as the need for a professional look for customer facing staff or the requirement to wear a branded uniform.
These business reasons still exist during the summer months so a dress code remains necessary and should still be implemented. In circumstances where an employee is refusing to abide by the dress code, this will usually be a disciplinary offence for which the employee can be sanctioned.
A summer dress code
When the weather heats up, some employees can struggle with following the dress code. Female staff will often switch to short sleeved dresses or smart skirts whilst some male staff are still required to wear shirts and ties in the office. Males who come to work without a tie should be disciplined each time under the dress code policy, however, employers may feel this is too harsh a sanction and could lead to an increased amount of absence as employees would rather stay off work than attend in full office dress.
Employers are being urged by many parties, including unions, to take a common sense and practical approach to the issue of dress codes in summer. Relaxing the normal dress code or introducing a summer specific code are options available to many employers, so long as the intentions behind the original policy are met.
Any relaxation of the normal policy should be set out in writing and communicated to the entire workforce. A reiteration that staff need to adhere to the standards of the relaxed code, and a reminder that a failure to follow the code will be classed as a disciplinary procedure, are key to ensuring this is followed.
The risks of summer dress codes
Summer dress codes should not place any additional requirements on a particular gender as this could be classed as sex discriminatory. Dress standards should apply uniformly and equally to both male and female staff.
Dress codes during the summer must ensure health and safety requirements are still met. This may mean that warm protective equipment will have to be worn during higher temperatures to avoid the risk of any accidents or incidents being caused through wearing casual clothing.