Summer office dress down day: what could go wrong?

Year Published: 2015

The heat is rising and summer is in the air.

As Brits, we like to make the most of the good weather during its rare decision to grace us with its presence. Many of us will hit the beaches and parks, but many others will be stuck in stuffy offices with no air-con.

Your staff may be fully embracing the summer spirit, but what about their wardrobe? What can an employer do about inappropriate work wear and why should they be concerned about raising the subject?

It’s an office not a leisure park, therefore there will always be a degree of common sense when it comes to office dress code, or there should be. Of course if your male staff are wandering in wearing speedos, your female staff have started to dress in bikinis and everyone is wearing flip flops then that’s probably not appropriate office attire. However, sometimes you need to spell out the obvious.

This can be a delicate subject to address with staff and some managers may not raise the matter in the most diplomatic way.

But what could go wrong?

  • Sex discrimination – If you are applying your concerns to only one gender of staff for example, to only women who have opted to wear skimpy summer skirts, beware of how this will come across to your staff and the charges it could implement;
  • Sexual harassment – This is where office banter could tip the scales into something inappropriate and offensive. With harassment, it is not the intention of the employer or manager, but how the employee is left feeling about the comments;
  • Personal injury – If nothing is done and a heavy file lands on a flip flop shod foot, the employer will no doubt be the one who foots the bill, so remember your duty of care towards your staff;
  • Productivity – There is no maximum temperature in the UK that is considered unsafe to work in, but it should be reasonable. If staff are not comfortable it makes sense that this could impact on productivity, never mind health and safety. Establishing what is reasonable and taking steps to ensure your staff’s thermal comfort is maintained may require discussions with staff and various measures to be adopted to support an effective strategy.

All of the above issues could result in grievances, workplace disputes, disciplinary matters, dismissals, resignations and tribunal claims. It doesn’t take much for a small matter to spiral out of control.

What to do to avoid unnecessary disputes?

  • Set some ground rules and expectations for all when it comes to professional dress and behaviour during the summer months, this may be done by adopting a dress code policy;
  • Be understanding and think of measures that could be adopted to maintain a happy workforce such as ‘dress down Friday’, water coolers and if your office has the space maybe benches could be placed outside so your employees can enjoy the sun on their breaks;
  • Be health and safety conscious when adopting new policies and introducing new incentives to staff.

There’s a balance to be had between personal comfort and professional attire. It will no doubt depend on the particular office culture, industry or whether a role is customer facing. Employers should be consciously thinking about how these issues could impact on them and the steps that could be taken to avoid unnecessary disputes.

For further advice on handling staff disputes or any other employment law and HR issues, please contact our Employment Law & HR team on 0161 475 7676.

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