Summertime: Four Tips for Keeping Workplaces Cool as the Temperatures Rise

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By: Jay M. Dade

Summertime, and the livin’ is easy . . .

Ella Fitzgerald’s voice brings images of crackling heat, warm breezes and long, languid days. But, when the temperatures rise outside, human resource managers can find their workforce temperatures rising as well. As summer progresses, the season presents unique workforce management issues. Here are four tips for keeping your workforce temperatures cool, calm and productive during the long, hot summer.

1. Revisit and Communicate Time-Off Policies

School’s out; kid’s out. Academic summer breaks can lead to workplace absences and increased requests for time off (paid and unpaid) as parents juggle summer break child care, summer program involvement, family vacations, and those ubiquitous summer camps. HR professionals should take the opportunity, early, to revisit with employees the organization’s workplace vacation or paid time off (PTO) policy.

Additionally, HR professionals should communicate the employer’s time-off policies and process/system for time-off requests and approvals, paying attention to communicating any first-requested, first-approved, workplace coverage and seniority requirements, before employees (and HR) find themselves confronted with denied requests, interrupted vacation plans, disappointments and morale issues.

2. Address the Dress Code

The arrival of warmer weather can find employee dress leaning more to the casual side of life, reflecting the more relaxed pace of life outside the workplace. While workplace dress codes vary across professions, industries and even specific company/office cultures, summer’s longer days provide a great – and sometimes, needed – opportunity to reiterate to employees  attire that is, and is not, appropriate in a particular workplace. Maybe sandals, flip-flops, shorts, summer tanks and tees are encouraged in some workplaces, but in others, they are considered too casual for business casual. In other, more buttoned-up, workplaces, business casual itself remains too casual, even during the summer. Remind employees, again, of the organization’s dress code policy.

If the employer has not implemented a formal dress code policy, take the opportunity to work with management to develop, and communicate, a policy that informs employees of appropriate attire in the particular workplace. At a minimum, communicate the employer’s expectations for workplace attire. Finally, always review applicable federal, state and local laws and guidance for applications of dress code requirements among certain protected classes.

3. Check the Severe Weather Policy

Hurricanes, severe thunderstorms, tornadoes – summer can also mean casting a wary eye to the sky (and the forecast). HR professionals should also ensure the employer is prepared should inclement weather cause a major disruption to its business, or to the welfare of its employees. Employers should develop, and communicate, a plan/policy regarding specific steps when severe weather strikes. Some questions to ask, and answer for employees:

  • If severe weather strikes during business/operations hours, what is the plan for sheltering in place?

  • When will the employer close or remain open during a storm or other severe weather outbreak?

  • How will the employer communicate an office closure or reduced-hours schedule?

  • Will employees be allowed to telecommute if the office/facility closes or transportation becomes an issue

  • Will the office/facility be available for sheltering purposes during extreme weather events?

4. Ensure Any Unpaid Internship Program is Compliant With Wage Laws

Summertime can bring an influx of interns to a workplace. The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) generally requires “for profit” employers to pay employees for all time worked. However, under certain limited circumstances, interns may not be considered “employees” under the FLSA, in which case they may not be required to be compensated for their work.

When it comes to unpaid workplace internships, the U.S. Department of Labor and courts have developed the “primary beneficiary test” to determine whether an intern is, or is not, an “employee” under the FLSA. Employers should review the following factors when determining whether an intern may be unpaid for his/her internship:

1.       The extent to which the intern and the employer clearly understand there is no expectation of compensation. Any promise of compensation, express or implied, suggests the intern is an employee – and vice versa.

 2.       The extent to which the internship provides training similar to that which would be given in an educational environment, including clinical and other hands-on training provided by educational institutions.

 3.       The extent to which the internship is tied to the intern’s formal education program by integrated coursework or the receipt of academic credit.

 4.       The extent to which the internship accommodates the intern’s academic commitments by corresponding to the academic calendar.

 5.       The extent to which the internship’s duration is limited to the period in which the internship provides the intern with beneficial learning.

 6.       The extent to which the intern’s work complements, rather than displaces, the work of paid employees while providing significant educational benefits to the intern.

 7.       The extent to which the intern and the employer understand the internship is conducted without entitlement to a paid job at the conclusion of the internship.

 This review should be flexible; no single factor determines whether an internship should be paid or unpaid. The unique circumstances of each internship will require reviewing all of the factors. Additionally, any housing or food stipends – for example – should be clearly designated as unrelated to wages.

HR professionals should also consult with in-house or outside labor and employment counsel for questions regarding any workplace policy, regardless of season.