September 2015 Bar Bulletin
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September 2015 Bar Bulletin

Adapting Dress Codes at Work for Changes in Weather

By Madison Hall-Lambert


Employers should not overlook the effects of seasonal variations in weather when considering work attire because it affects the health and well-being of workers. Without workers, there would be no finished product (or service) at the end of the day.

There are positive aspects to wearing a uniform that workers may accept and appreciate. For example, uniforms erase the late night/early morning stress of picking out outfits for the next day to fit a loosely defined dress code. Having a uniform would also erase the confusion of vague dress code standards and lead to a more productive work day.

The price of a uniform to the employee can be small to nonexistent if the uniform meets the statutory criteria for furnishing uniforms or compensating employees for their uniforms.1 Uniforms also provide professionalism in the work environment and make it simple for a customer to identify staff and ask for assistance.

From the employer's perspective, uniforms can also get the employee into a professional mindset before starting his or her shift and thereby improve employee performance; make it easier to distinguish between employees with specific responsibilities (managers, trainees, etc); give companies a chance to market their brand on clothing that employees wear, especially if the job requires employees to go out in public; and make the employees feel like they are a part of a team, which promotes good workplace morale.2

In cases where employees are required to wear certain clothes at work, but the clothes do not meet the statutory definition of "uniform," employers can require employees "to obtain two sets of wearing apparel to accommodate for the seasonal changes in weather which necessitate a change in wearing apparel."3 However, if the employer changes the color of the required apparel during a two-year period of time, the employer must furnish or compensate the employees for the apparel even if it does not fit the definition of a "uniform."4

The issues caused by variations in weather can arise because assigned uniforms may be decided at one point in time, without regard to seasonal changes in working conditions, creating possible problems with employees' health and productivity. For example, uniforms selected for summer work may include shorts, but if that same work is being performed in the winter, it is much easier to catch a cold or contract frostbite while wearing shorts when the job involves working outside.

The same issue arises when employees have to wear a uniform that includes black boots, black pants, a black shirt and a black apron that was selected during the winter without regard to the scorching heat that radiates off the ground in the summer. As the Department of Labor & Industries (L&I) has stated:

Working outdoors in hot weather can result in serious illness or even death. Workers exposed to extreme heat may experience symptoms of heat-related illnesses (HRI), such as heat cramps, heat rash, heat exhaustion, fainting, heat stroke and other symptoms.

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