Workplace Dress Codes and Heat Waves

Posted in : HR Updates on 17 July 2019
Olga Pollock
firmus energy
Issues covered:

As I was driving home from work on a hot Friday in June, I was listening to a radio discussion around acceptable clothing during heatwaves both at work and in public. The focus was on what was, and was not acceptable, and the general agreement seemed to be that regarding work attire, it all depended on the sector. There was a conversation around whether shorts and t-shirt were suitable in the office and the chat even went as far as crop tops and high-rise shorts. In fact, only yesterday I overheard a male colleague commenting on how good it would be to be able to wear shorts in work in the hot weather. Given that his role involves a lot on time on his feet, I could sympathise with him.

Our dress code is pretty straight-forward; professional attire and no denim or trainers, unless trainers are necessary for medical conditions such as mobility issues. But what is acceptable or otherwise, really does depend on the sector and the role.

A front of house receptionist would look out of place in a hoodie, jeans and converse whereas a software developer in a tech company would fit right in. Generally, in customer-facing roles, such as the recruitment sector the dress code tends to be more formal so conversations around dress code with scantily clad staff may be more straightforward than in an environment where the dress code is laxer. And what about dress-down Fridays? Employers will likely find conversations around showing too much flesh a bit trickier.

When the weather heats up, some employees can struggle with following the dress code. During the summer, a pragmatic approach needs to be taken by employers to ensure a comfortable working environment. Temperature control in the office is necessary from a health and safety perspective to avoid employees working in an overly warm environment. A level of compromise is required by employers however during summer months. As regards the radio interview, one guest described how he was wearing rolled-up chinos with a light, loose cotton shirt and sandals which covered his toes (no socks). While it conveyed a pretty 'hipster' image in my mind, it still seemed entirely acceptable in terms of maintaining a professional image as opposed to the formal shirt and tie look.

It could be argued that without a dress code, it would be difficult to justify how a difference could be made between a male employee in shorts and t-shirt and a female employee wearing shorts that may seem a little too short on a scorching summer's day? Again, in a consumer-facing role, it would not be unreasonable for an employer to ask staff to dress appropriately. But in a back-office role, away from clients, it may not be so straightforward.

It does tend to be easier for female staff who can switch to short-sleeved dresses whilst most male staff will still come to work dressed as usual, however, it is important that dress codes do not place any additional requirements on a particular gender.

Employers should take a common-sense approach to the issue of dress codes during the summer and some may even consider a separate summer dress code policy. Such policies will need to adhere to health and safety requirements, so warm protective PPE may still be necessary in the hot weather.

I have no doubt that by the time this is published the typical Northern Irish summer will have returned and we'll be back to grey skies and rain, but I can only assure you that at the time of writing there were lots of t-shirts, dresses and bare skin on show!

Useful reading:

Olga's previous article on Dress Codes in the Workplace

What to Wear to work in the Heatwave? 

This article is correct at 17/07/2019

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Olga Pollock
firmus energy

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