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Working in hot weather - should you set a summer dress code?
Working in hot weather can be uncomfortable and bad for productivity. But do you know your employees' rights? And is it worth setting a summer dress code?
Summer time, and the living is easy – unless, of course you’re stuck on a crowded commuter train, trussed up in a shirt and tie, on your way to a stuffy office where, if you’re lucky, you’ll spend the next nine hours being blasted by ice-cold aircon, before it’s back on the train for a return leg of sweltering punishment.
It’s fair to say that, here in the UK, we spend most of our time willing the sun to come out to tip the temperature to anything above tepid, but then on the rare occasion it actually does, we really don’t cope very well.
So, could you make life a little more comfortable for your employees by setting a summer dress code? And do you know the rights of your staff when it comes to working in hot weather?
Should you let staff dress down in summer?
As an employer, you’re under no legal obligation to relax your dress code during periods of hot weather, and it may be the case that you can’t practically do so for health and safety reasons. But the TUC, a federation of trade unions in England and Wales, has called upon employers to temporarily relax dress codes to help staff cope as temperatures are set to soar to over 30°C.
And where people are working outdoors, it’s calling for employers to review work times wherever possible, so that work is done in the morning and afternoon, avoiding midday when temperatures reach their peak.
Relaxing the dress code doesn’t necessarily mean letting staff come in wearing whatever they like, but rather doing away with the need to wear a jacket and tie or, in some instances, it might actually be suitable to let staff wear shorts, so long as they are paired with a shirt and appropriate shoes.
If you’re thinking of implementing a dress code, do your research first and look into the relevant employment law, to help make sure you don’t fall foul of any dress code discrimination rules.
It might also help to allow staff just one ‘dress down’ day per week, as can letting staff work from home where possible.
When does ‘hot’ become ‘too hot’?
Although the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) recommends a minimum temperature of 16°C for workplaces in the UK, or 13°C for any jobs that require rigorous physical effort, there’s currently no recommended maximum workplace temperature.
Current HSE guidelines state that: "during working hours, the temperature in all workplaces inside buildings shall be reasonable", but what is ‘reasonable’ depends on the type of work being done – is it manual or office-based? – as well as the type of workplace – is it a kitchen or an air conditioned office?
But the TUC is pushing for a change in the law to introduce a maximum indoor temperature of 30°C, or 27°C for those doing strenuous jobs, with employers obliged to adopt cooling measures when the workplace temperature hits 24°C.
How to keep your cool in the workplace
As an employer, you’re not legally obliged to provide air conditioning in the workplace, but you are expected to provide reasonable temperatures.
If you do have air conditioning, then make sure you a timer so it cools down the office at key times during the day, and make sure it shuts off an hour before close of play, to save energy.
And make it company policy that staff aren’t to adjust the temperature themselves, as the last thing you want is people meddling with the temperature all day – while some love nothing more than an arctic blast, others will down tools at anything lower than a balmy 23°C. If nothing else, the constant fluctuations mean your unit has to work harder, which can play havoc with your business energy bills.
And remember to make sure you’re on the best possible business energy deal, to help keep cooling costs low.
If your office has curtains or blinds, close them to keep the hot sun out, and make sure windows and doors are closed if the aircon is running. If there is no air conditioning, open and doors and windows, if safe to do so, to create a cooling through draught.
You also need to provide employees with suitable drinking water, and it might be worth providing staff with their own water bottles, to encourage them to keep themselves hydrated during the day.