With summer fast approaching, now is a good time to think about challenges related to dress codes and time off. To help set clear expectations with employees and ensure the summer months are safe and productive, consider reviewing your dress code, holiday, vacation, and rest break policies.
Summer is the time of year when employees are most likely to test the limits of dress codes. Take this opportunity to review your policy to ensure it supports your efforts to promote a safe, professional, and inclusive work environment. Make sure your policy:
- Is in writing.
- Provides examples of acceptable and unacceptable attire. For example, "open-toed shoes are permitted, flip flops are not." Or, if you allow employees to wear shorts, cite examples of permitted shorts (such as dress shorts that reach the knee) and prohibited shorts (such as shorts above the knee, denim, cutoffs, etc.).
- Encourages employees to ask questions if they're unsure about what's considered appropriate.
- Complies with applicable federal, state, and local nondiscrimination laws (see below).
- Indicates that you will provide a reasonable accommodation for an employee's disability or sincerely held religious beliefs and practices as required by state and/or federal law.
Be sure your policy doesn't unfairly single out a category of employees, or discriminate against a particular group. Unless your business must have gender-specific dress codes, consider adopting a gender neutral dress code where you give employees a broad list of appropriate attire and allow them to choose what to wear. Appearance policies concerning hair have also faced scrutiny. To avoid potentially discriminatory practices, instead of having hard and fast rules banning specific hairstyles, consider requiring employees to keep their hair kempt.
Some employers see a rise in unscheduled absences before and after holidays, such as July 4th and Labor Day. This year, for example, employees may be more apt to call in "sick" on July 5th since it falls on a Friday. To help address the issue of absenteeism around holidays, many employers require non-exempt employees to work the day before and after a holiday to receive holiday pay (unless the time off was scheduled in advance). If you choose this option, make sure it's clearly communicated in your policy.
Note: This type of policy isn't permitted for exempt employees, since exempt employees must generally receive their full salary in any workweek in which they perform work. Employers aren't permitted to reduce an exempt employee's salary when the company is closed for a holiday. However, if the employee is absent for a full day for personal reasons (other than sickness or disability) and the company is open, a deduction is generally permitted.
The summer is a popular time for employees to request vacation, making it challenging for employers to ensure adequate staffing levels. Review your paid time off policy, to make sure it:
- Defines who is eligible.
- Indicates how much time eligible employees may use and in what increments.
- Provides employees with clear instructions for requesting time off.
- Communicates that vacations may be restricted if necessary based on scheduling needs and provides guidance on how they will be granted (such as, seniority, first-come first-served, or a combination of these factors).
- States how much advance notice is required for vacation requests.
- Describes (if applicable) any blackout periods during which vacations are off limits.
- Addresses whether and to what extent employees can carryover unused vacation time to the following year and whether unused vacation will be paid out at the time of separation (see note below).
Note: Some states prohibit policies that force employees to forfeit unused vacation time (also known as use-it-or-lose-it policies). In these cases, employers must generally allow employees to carry over all accrued but unused vacation time from year to year, or pay employees for the unused time at the end of the year. In some cases, a reasonable cap on accruals may be permitted (once the employee reaches the cap, they will stop accruing vacation time until they use a portion of their accrued time).
States generally handle unused vacation in one of three ways:
- Expressly prohibit use-it-or-lose-it policies. These states require carryover from year to year and payout at separation;
- Permit use-it-or-lose-it policies but only if the employer has a written policy that explicitly states it will not carry over accrued, unused vacation to the following year and won't pay employees for accrued, unused time at separation; or
- Don't require employers to carry over accrued, unused vacation to the following year or pay employees for unused time at separation unless they have a policy that says otherwise.
During the summer months, an increase in temperatures and humidity can result in more cases of heat illness. Employers with workers exposed to high temperatures should establish a complete heat illness prevention program. At a minimum, it should:
- Include engineering controls, such as air conditioning and ventilation.
- Encourage employees to drink water often, take frequent breaks, and to the extent possible, limit time in the heat.
- Comply with applicable state rules for the frequency and duration of breaks. Some states, such as California, specifically require that rest and recuperation breaks be provided to employees working in the heat. Check your state law to ensure compliance.
- Help workers become acclimated to the heat, especially workers who are new to working outdoors in the heat or who have been away from work for a week or more, by gradually increasing workloads and allowing more frequent breaks.
- Monitor workers for signs of heat illness.
- Have a plan for emergencies.
Employees returning late from breaks is another issue that tends to peak during the summertime. Under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), rest breaks lasting 20 minutes or less must be paid, even if the employee takes a longer unauthorized break. However, the FLSA permits employers to exclude unauthorized extensions of rest periods from hours worked as long as the employer expressly and clearly advises employees in writing that:
- Breaks may only last for a specified duration;
- Unauthorized extensions are in violation of the employer's rules or policy; and
- Policy violations will be punished.
Make sure your policy addresses these three requirements if you intend to exclude unauthorized extensions of rest breaks from hours worked.
Note: A number of states have their own rules concerning rest breaks. Check your state law to ensure compliance.
Proactively address these challenges by carefully drafting policies that comply with applicable laws and meet your business needs. Communicate expectations with employees and train supervisors and employees when appropriate.