Do men in the workplace have to wear the trousers?

June 23, 2017

This week we saw the hottest June since the summer of 1976, which undoubtedly caused uncomfortable conditions for many workers. 

Man In Shorts Image

We looks at whether businesses should relax dress codes during a heatwave and if it can cause any potential discrimination claims. 

A good point was made by Joey Barge, a call centre worker, who donned a frock because he wasn’t allowed to wear shorts in 30° heat at work.  We’re glad that Joey’s employer took the point and acted reasonably in the end - his employer now permits male workers to wear ¾ length shorts in ‘black navy or beige only’. Phew!

And it’s not just office workers who are protesting – in France this week a group of bus drivers had asked to be allowed to dress more casually as temperatures reached 38°C. When the request was refused, the men protested against what they claimed were unacceptable working conditions by wearing skirts. Their union representative claimed a policy to wear trousers was a form of discrimination – but  the president of the bus company insisted uniform rules were rules. Last year the company introduced lighter “summer trousers” - shorts remain banned.

The bottom line is that workplaces without air conditioning can be hellish during heatwaves. The law doesn’t set a general maximum work temperature. But reasonable employers won’t unnecessarily force workers to wear clothes that make the sweltering conditions worse.

 Both sides need to keep their cool about workwear. Men and women should always be treated equally – but bear in mind that when it comes to dress (in the general sense!), equal rights can mean ‘equal but different’. A dress code can expect men and women to wear different clothes, so long as this is justified and sensible.

It wasn’t fair to ask receptionist Nicola Thorp to wear high heels at work. It may well be unfair to ask men to wear long trousers in temperatures where women wear summer dresses. We expect to see more men showing a leg this summer to prove their case.

For expert legal advice on HR & employment policies and to check that your business is up to date with the latest discrimination rules, get in touch with our Employment team to see how we can help. 

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