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Can I wear shorts and flip flops to the office in hot weather? Employee rights explained

TEMPERATURES in the UK are currently very high, so it’s tempting to dip into your cooler holiday wardrobe instead of the regular office get-up.

Today, Britain is hotter than Barbados with sweltering highs of 33C and a worrying caution from the Met Office’s first ever extreme heat alert.

Your employer might not let you dress so casually in the office


Your employer might not let you dress so casually in the officeCredit: Getty

But the flip flops and shorts that you might typically wear on the tropical island may not be appropriate in your UK based office.

The temperature warnings issued cover parts of Wales and most of England until Thursday so the hot weather struggles aren’t going away any time soon. 

We explain your rights working in the heat, and what you can do and wear to help battle the discomfort.

Can I wear shorts and flip flops in the office?

It’s up to your employer to decide what is suitable to wear in your place of work.

If you’re in an office there might be a formal dress code that you have to stick to.

But they can always relax the requirements in warmer weather to keep staff content and comfortable if this is appropriate.

TUC general secretary, Frances O’Grady said: “We all love the summer sun. But working in sweltering conditions in a baking shop or stifling office can be unbearable and dangerous. 

“Indoor workplaces should be kept cool, with relaxed dress codes and flexible working to make use of the coolest hours of the day. 

“And bosses must make sure outdoor workers are protected with regular breaks, lots of fluids, plenty of sunscreen and the right protective clothing.” 

“It’s even more important to use PPE safely in this hot weather. Staff will need extra breaks to cool down if their equipment reduces ventilation. 

Your boss is still entitled to insist on certain standards of appearance though, so that could mean closed toe shoes are a must, and you could also be pulled-up on the length of your clothing.

This is especially the case if you are in a customer-facing role or it’s required because of health and safety.

If you’re not in an office and work in a pub or restaurant for example, your boss might say it’s okay to wear shorts in the hot weather but you shouldn’t wear open toed shoes in case you drop a knife onto your foot.

It’s the same for people who work in warehouses or on building sites as heavy objects are a health and safety concern.

The best thing to do is check over your workplace’s dress code and if you are unsure on whether flip flops or shorts are appropriate ask your boss what you are allowed to wear.

A spokesperson from workplace lawyers, Doyle Clayton said: “Employees don’t have a legal right to opt out of the employer’s rules and to wear whatever they want at work instead.

“But in the heatwave, employers will need to ensure that the workplace is still a healthy and safe environment for employees to do their jobs.”

What if I’m still working from home?

Lots of workers will have returned to the office this week, now that the work from home order has been scrapped, but not everybody has gone back just yet.

If you’re working from home it’s very unlikely that you have to abide by a strict dress code during the day.

That means you could realistically wear whatever you want to help combat the heat.

But the experts are saying those working from home should get just as much assistance in the heat too.

Frances O’Grady said: “While many offices have air conditioning, few people have it in their homes.

“Lots of staff are still working from home, so they may struggle to work during the hottest parts of the day. 

“Employers should allow flexible hours so people can work when it’s cooler.”

Can I go home if it’s too hot?

You can’t go home from work just because of the heat unless it’s making you feel unwell and you need to take sick leave.

The Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992 places a legal obligation on employers to provide a “reasonable” working temperature in the office.

But there’s no maximum temperature set for this, so that means nothing will automatically trigger you being sent home.

Instead, your employer has a duty to determine what reasonable comfort will be in the particular circumstances.

Guidance suggests a minimum of 16C, or 13C if employees are doing physical work though.

Your boss doesn’t legally have to provide air conditioning, although they could help keep temperatures cooler by opening windows or producing fans.

The TUC has said it would like to see a change in the law so that employers have to make an effort to reduce temperatures if they get above 24C.

There are also calls for a maximum indoor temperature to be set at 30C or 27C for those doing strenuous jobs. 

The employment experts also want workers to be provided with sun protection and water especially if the job is outdoors. 

What should I do if I can’t go home or wear what I want?

The temperature of the workplace is one of the potential hazards that employers should consider when doing risk assessments so they should be taking measures to make it comfortable for you to work.

But to keep yourself healthy during the heatwave, you are advised to drink a lot of water in order to stay hydrated.

If you’re not allowed to wear shorts in your workplace, try loose clothing instead, made from cool fabrics.

If you’re heading outside of the office on your lunchbreak don’t place yourself directly in the sun during the hottest hours of the day if you can avoid it – this is usually from around 11am to 4pm.

Trying to find shade or breezy spots during these times will be your best bet.

Plus, keeping a bottle of sunscreen with you is also highly advisable, as is ensuring you have a hat to prevent sunstroke.

On your way to work, you could face a £5,000 fine for simply driving in flip flops.

If you’re sat at your desk wincing in pain at sunburn caught over the weekend, here’s five ways to soothe it.

People are also sharing their best “air con” hacks to keep cool in the heatwave and all you need is a bottle of water.

UK weather – Met Office issues first EVER amber extreme heat warning as Brits swelter in four-day 33C heatwave

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