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Heatwave alert: dress code and office policy

Author: Sarah Naylor

The recent heatwave we have been experiencing has dominated our news over the last few days, alongside of course the tragic events of Manchester, London and Grenfell Tower.

Amongst the hundreds of news reports have come several which relate to dress codes. What policies do businesses have for dress codes? How appropriate is it to enforce these under extreme temperatures? Has health and safety been considered?

We have seen news reports of Palace Guards fainting during the Queen’s speech event due to overheating under the extremely heavy uniforms which incorporate 2lbs of bear skin. We have also seen reports of children being sent home from school or kept away from school by their parents because some schools have refused to relax their policies on blazers being worn despite the hot weather.

A new report which particularly grabbed my attention related to a male call centre worker. The office policy on dress code was that males should wear smart trousers. Due to the extreme heat, the worker went to work wearing a smart pair of chino shorts. He was promptly sent home by managers and asked to change into clothing that accorded with the office policy. The worker felt that the policy was discriminatory given that females are permitted to wear skirts and dresses. So, he decided to change his clothing but returned to work in a dress to make the point clear. This resulted in quite some controversy in the workplace, and though the employer did initially ask him the change clothing again, he argued his point and very quickly an e-mail was issued to the staff confirming that under the circumstances the dress code was to be relaxed to enable male employees to wear smart shorts.

This raises some interesting considerations over what an appropriate workplace dress code is and ensuring that this is not discriminatory in any way. There are a number of ways a dress code can be discriminatory beyond sex, it is important for employers to overall consider other factors such as religion and cultural dress.

Under circumstances such as the current heatwave, to what degree should an employer relax their dress code? Health and safety of staff members should always be a frontline concern. This should be considered in tandem with office temperature, whether there are air con units or fans in operation to keep the indoor temperature down, and whether there is sufficient ventilation in the office.

Employers need to consider this issue carefully to avoid health and safety breaches, staff complaints, discrimination, and a potential rise in sickness absence.

If you have any concerns about this issue and would like further advice and information, contact our employment law experts on 01302 320621 or email info@athertongodfrey.co.uk.

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