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HR in summer: sun, fun and workplace headaches

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Archives - May 2007
Tuesday, May 01, 2007


While our daily weather is not always an indicator, summer is just around the corner. It’s this season that can cause employers some of their greatest challenges.

People want to take time off during the next few months, but for some organizations, the summer months are busy, which makes letting employees go on vacation very difficult.

Finding the right balance between granting vacation time to employees anxious to play in the sunshine while meeting the organization’s needs is often tricky.

Work attire is another summertime headache. Employees, reveling in the warmer weather, find business-casual dress codes restrictive. Employers struggle with questions about bare legs, shorts, sleeveless T-shirts, midriff displays, and flip-flops.

How much skin showing is allowed?  Can men work without a shirt? Are sheer tops appropriate? Are cropped pants acceptable? Can employers have one standard for the office and a separate one for the plant? (The answer to this last one is “yes.”) According to Rosemary Haefner, vice president of human resources for CareerBuilder.com, the worst work apparel mistakes during summer months are: denim shorts, short skirts, revealing tops, flip-flops, workout attire, beach wear and concert T-shirts or shirts with offensive slogans or logos.

Then there are the temperature fluctuations and how to address them. What if someone is too cold and others are complaining of the heat? There seems to be no perfect air-conditioning setting.

That situation is far easier to resolve, however, than those in which employees are subjected to much higher heat levels because of their work. Employees in bakeries, foundries, maintenance shops or on construction sites or road crews can be in harm’s way just doing their job during the summer months.

Employers must be proactive about preventive measures to ensure that heat stroke, fainting and heat rashes are avoided. OSHA (www.osha.gov/STLC/heatstress/index.html) provides a wide variety of tips and materials that can be helpful to employers in planning how to respond to the summer heat when it arrives.

Summer activities are also an employer’s concern. Is the organization going to sponsor an employee baseball or softball team? How will injuries that occur be handled? Without a specific waiver, are they likely to fall under workers’ compensation? Will there be a company picnic? How will any injuries resulting from the water balloon toss or the extended stretch by a usually sedentary employee for that errant volleyball be handled? Will alcohol be served or allowed?

The potential for em-ployer liability for accidents or incidents, both at the picnic and on the drive home, associated with any provided or allowed alcohol can be a major concern.

Summer is supposed to be a fun time, the time when everyone’s spirits are a little lighter and more upbeat. But for employers, the season presents a whole set of issues.

Being thoughtful about what concerns exist, determining how best to protect the business, and being clear with employees about what is and isn’t acceptable in advance will go a long way to ensuring that everyone can enjoy the warmth and opportunities that come with the pleasant weather.

— Judy Clark, SPHR
CEO, HR Answers
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