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Hot Under the Collar? What to Wear to Work in a Heatwave Without Breaching Your Employer’s Dress Code

It’s been a scorcher so far and the hot weather is set to continue this summer, with forecasters predicting such a heatwave this week that people have been advised to stay indoors.

For those of us who haven’t struck lucky with our annual leave, however, that still means going to work - and deciding what to wear.

Particularly if your employment requires you to dress smartly - in a shirt and tie for example - it can be difficult to strike a balance that suits both you and your boss.

But while there isn’t a ‘one size fits all’ approach, your employer does have a duty of care to protect you from risk. In most disputes over this, I find it’s nothing that can’t be resolved with a bit of good old-fashioned common sense.

What Does the Law Say?

Employers can and most do have dress codes – often different for men and women – particularly if the business requires staff to promote a certain image such as looking professional and smart.

These are normally contained within employee handbooks as opposed to contracts of employment. This means there is no contractual obligation for staff to comply, but employers do reserve the right to discipline them if they refuse as long as they have been made fully aware of the policy.

On hot sunny days it’s arguably easier for women to stay cool while still adhering to a smart dress code, and the media is full of stories about males who have fought back against this perceived discrimination by turning up in dresses or skirts. There’s a lesson in there for employers to be mindful of applying their policies with parity. If they allow female workers to dress differently, they should also give some thought as to how they can adapt the dress code for men or put themselves at risk of discrimination claims. 

The question employers need to ask themselves is whether their decision is reasonable and justified? Is the perceived breach of policy causing a real problem?

Turning up for work in a bikini unless you’re a swimwear model or a lifeguard would most likely be deemed inappropriate. But if clothing is still smart, inoffensive, compliant with the company’s health and safety policy and allows staff to do their job more comfortably then it’s reasonable to expect employers to relax the rules.  

If your job involves spending long periods of time outside in the sun, your employer should take steps to minimise risk, such as ensuring you take regular breaks and drinks, have access to shade and encourage you to wear sunscreen and hats. Failure to follow their duty of care could lead to potential claims of personal injury and/or constructive dismissal. 

Unfortunately there isn’t a law that says everyone can go home if the thermometer hits a certain temperature, but first and foremost employers do have to consider the welfare of their staff.

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