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Should You Have A Separate Dress Code for Summer?

Published December 04, 2023 (last updated December 7, 2023) - NZ Operations Manager

It is officially summertime. While New Zealand may not necessarily be known for its soaring temperatures, heat and humidity can cause discomfort, particularly for those who have a certain work dress standard to maintain. If you have a specific dress code in place, when summer does arrive you may receive requests from employees to alter it to accommodate. This can raise some questions from employers as to whether they can deny the request or perhaps alter their dress code for this particular period of time. In some instances, employers may wonder if they can be more lenient with those who feel the effects of heat, while maintaining standards for others who may not.

Dress codes and standards vary from workplace to workplace and depend entirely on the work performed. As a business owner or employer, you can instil a dress code that you deem to be appropriate for the line of work you and your employees carry out. Bear in mind, if there are requirements for specific
standards due to health or safety reasons, you must comply.

With this in mind, you are within your rights to allow a different standard of dress in any situation you deem appropriate, including allowing for comfort during the summer months. But what is exactly the benefit of a dress code? 


Value of a workplace dress code

Makes a strong impression

When a customer walks into your business, the first thing they see is how your staff are dressed. If your staff are dressed untidily this may create a negative impression. If your workplace regularly interacts with customers, such as a restaurant, hotel or retail store, then having a dress code ensures when customers look at your employees collectively, they see uniformity and professionalism. A dress code does not necessarily mean a uniform that all employees must wear but may be a set of guidelines detailing what is or is not appropriate work attire.

Ensuring all your employees are dressed to a standard can also promote the feeling of belonging to a team, and your staff know when they are at work, they are embodying the business, so are more conscious of how they are behaving.

Health and safety

In construction industries a dress code is highly important as it will typically require all workers to wear protective clothing such as steel toe boots, reflective vests and full-length pants. Employees in the food industry may require hair nets and gloves be worn for health reasons. In some workplaces, you can’t wear loose clothing if you’re working with machinery or heeled shoes if you have to work on uneven surfaces.

Prevents shabby attire

While employees may grumble at having to abide by a dress code, they will soon realise the benefits to not having to decide whether or not they are dressed appropriately. It sets out clear expectations of employees, including personal grooming. This eliminates the worry of whether a shirt is going to be deemed inappropriate, as all employees need to do is check the dress code for guidance. Again, for some industries and customer-facing roles, this cleanliness and grooming makes a world of a difference.

How do you create an office dress code?

A committee of diverse range of people, stakeholders, and employees should be responsible for creating your workplace dress code. It should be fair, inclusive, and respectful. You can ensure you avoid offensive or rigid rules such as:

  • Makeup for female staff
  • Heels of a particular length
  • Discriminatory rules against a particular religion, culture, or gender

If you involve employees in the discussion, you make them feel respected and valued. Your dress code should be flexible. Can employees dress casually on Fridays? Do men have to wear blazers/suits even if they are not in a client facing role? If you are creating a separate dress code for summer, it should outline the guidelines for employees.

It should also be industry specific. You can’t implement a corporate dress code in a startup or a digital agency. And while it may seem trivial, employees do feel impacted by rigid policies and it can lead to reduced morale in the office. Consider what your employees prefer and what do they need from you to do their jobs efficiently?

Share the dress code

Once the dress code is ready, you have to share it with all employees and management. Save the complete dress code somewhere permanently and keep it easily accessible to staff. Share the dress code via email and on all your internal communication channels.

You should also bring it up in a team meeting and allow enough time for employees to ask questions or raise concerns. Share the policy again on different occasions to remind employees of what’s expected (for example, if they are visiting clients, or an investor is on-site, or if they have to present to another company).

Communicate the consequences

What happens if an employee does not follow the dress code? Explain the consequences clearly and specifically. When dealing with an employee who breaches the policy, you need to be:

  • Discreet- Arrange a private chat so you can tell them discretely
  • Clear- Give specific reasons why their outfit is offensive or inappropriate. If another employee has raised a complaint, do not name the employee.
  • Respectful- Remember to treat the employee respectfully. Avoid harsh or insulting language and treat them fairly.

Things employers can do

Ideally, businesses should not adopt policies that put up barriers for people’s choices and identities. Companies with prescriptive dress codes can also expose themselves to discrimination claims. Erring on the side of caution is always a good idea. A workplace dress code can help immensely when designed practically and flexibly. You can reach out to experts like Employsure who have worked with 6,000 business owners across New Zealand in matters of employment relations.

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