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Avoid getting hot under the collar when the temperature rises in the workplace

Published 04 July 2017

It’s that time of year when temperatures hopefully start to rise, but it does also mean that things can get a little bit heated in work.

Recent record breaking temperatures (1) sparked what now appears to be an annual debate about suitable attire when at work during a heatwave.

The Trade Union Congress called on employers to relax dress codes to help employees to stay cool during the hot spell (2).

One Buckinghamshire call centre worker was sent home after turning up in his shorts, which breached the dress code. His colourful response made headlines when he returned to work wearing a pink and black dress (3).

Workers’ defying a dress policy in hot weather is an age old problem for employers. Traffic wardens in Manchester once staged a one-day strike after being ordered to keep wearing jackets and ties in hot weather. The walkout forced their bosses to change the dress policy (4).

Employers can avoid heated debates and confrontations by having a clear and established dress code (5) and by showing some flexibility.

The Health and Safety Executive has produced helpful guidance to help organisations carry out an optional thermal risk assessment (6) if workers complain about working in hot temperatures.

While a dress code can be put in place for reasons that include health and safety and projecting the right corporate image, reasonable consideration can be given to relaxing the policy when temperatures soar.

This does not mean that flip flops, shorts or skirts for men which appears to be a trend in Europe (7) are appropriate.

Last summer ACAS published tips to help keep workplaces cool for employees (8).

To help do so employers should consider following:

  • Supply drinks to stop staff getting dehydrated.

  • Allow staff to wear casual clothing.

  • Provide workers with fans or portable air conditioning cabinets.

  • Allow staff to take regular breaks.

  • Think about flexible working to help employees avoid the heat of rush hour.

When it comes to workplace temperatures (9) the guidance says it should be reasonable. There is no clear advice regarding what is considered too hot.

References:

  1. Hottest June day since summer of 1976 in heatwave. BBC News [Internet]. 2017 Jun 21 [cited 2017 Jul 4]; Available from: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-40353118
  2. Let workers shed suits in hot weather, says trade union body. BBC News [Internet]. 2017 Jun 19 [cited 2017 Jul 4]; Available from: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-40327902
  3. Boult A. This man was sent home from work for wearing shorts - so he came back in a dress. The Telegraph [Internet]. 2017 Jun 21 [cited 2017 Jul 4]; Available from: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/men/the-filter/man-sent-home-work-wearing-shorts-came-back-dress/
  4. News ME. Wardens go tie-less as bosses feel the heat [Internet]. men. 2007 [cited 2017 Jul 4]. Available from: http://www.manchestereveningnews.co.uk/news/greater-manchester-news/wardens-go-tie-less-as-bosses-feel-1117971
  5. Dress code and appearance in the workplace | Advice & Guidance | Acas [Internet]. [cited 2017 Jul 4]. Available from: http://www.acas.org.uk/index.aspx?articleid=4953
  6. Temperature [Internet]. [cited 2017 Jul 4]. Available from: http://www.hse.gov.uk/temperature/index.htm
  7. Sini R. Why men who can’t wear shorts are wearing skirts instead. BBC News [Internet]. 2017 Jun 22 [cited 2017 Jul 4]; Available from: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/blogs-trending-40366316
  8. The Cube 123 Albion Street. Acas publishes top tips to help keep workplaces cool for employees during hot weather [Internet]. 2016 [cited 2017 Jul 4]. Available from: http://www.acas.org.uk/index.aspx?articleid=5814
  9. Workplace temperatures - GOV.UK [Internet]. [cited 2017 Jul 4]. Available from: https://www.gov.uk/workplace-temperatures

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