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Summer dress codes: what employers need to know

One of the more contentious issues for employers during the summer months is how to enforce a dress code during warmer temperatures. The issue came to a head during last week’s heat wave when bus drivers in the city of Nantes in France had asked to be allowed to dress more casually as temperatures reached 38C. When the request was refused, the men decided to protest against what they claimed were unacceptable working conditions and donned skirts.

Workplace dress codes are often stipulated in a company handbook. For many employees, this requires formal dress for both male and females and can specify that men have to wear a tie. Professional standards of dress are necessary for many business reasons, including the need to present a certain image to customers, so failing to follow the dress code is usually a disciplinary issue.

Implementing the dress code becomes harder when the weather heats up. Female staff can often change to short sleeved dresses or smart skirts whereas men don’t have a real alternative to suit, tie and trousers. This can cause issues when employers try to enforce their dress code and staff either refuse to follow it, or they refuse to come to work when it is hot. Disciplinary action can follow this failure, however, that may not always be the best approach for the business.

Employers are being urged to take a common sense and practical approach to this issue. Relaxing the dress code for a specified period or when the weather is expected to peak is a realistic option for many employers, so long as the intention behind the original dress code can still be met. Employers should set out the requirements of the relaxed code to inform staff what the standard of dress will be during this time. Common rules include not allowing any staff to wear flip flops but it can also set out whether men can wear smart shorts or a shirt without a tie. Some companies may also introduce a separate summer dress code policy that applies during this season.

Any relaxation of the current policy, or a different summer policy, need to apply the same standard to both male and female workers to avoid any claims of discrimination. It will also be prudent to ensure that health and safety requirements can be met all year round to avoid the risk of any accidents or incidents being caused by more casual clothing.