Should you have cold feet about wearing flip-flops to work?

Young female wearing high heels

From the morning commute, to the air-conditioned office, the summer months can put us in quandary about what is and what isn’t appropriate to wear to work.

Whilst most people relax the office dress code when temperatures soar, others feel that dressing casually during the summer months could make you a “flop” in the office.

The heat can also see us ditch our office appropriate shoes for a cooler sandal or flip-flop, but is a flip-flop acceptable in the office? A survey by jobsite, Monster, revealed that 81% of UK workers felt flip-flops were unprofessional, while a further 6% simply didn’t want to see their colleagues’ feet whilst at work.

However, footwear etiquette in the office has been hotly debated in recent years – and interestingly last year’s long hot summer seems to have mellowed our attitudes to what’s acceptable to wear on our feet to work. A recent survey by Footner Exfoliating Socks showed that over half of respondents feel it’s okay to wear womens flip flops to work.

Lilly Harvey, a shoe expert, not only approves them occasionally. “As flip flops are such a popular fashion piece, there are so many different versions and brands available.”, she stated. Flip flops might not be suitable in a few situations, but they sure make you look and feel different.

Claire Powell, HR expert at Weller Mae Limited, discusses the current HR regulations around what companies can and can’t do about an employee’s outfit:

Make sure you have a clear and transparent policy – A dress code can be used by employers to ensure workers are safe and dressed appropriately for their role, for example if they work in a kitchen, they may need to have their hair tied back and their feet covered for hygiene reasons.

Before employees start within your organisation, make it clear that there is a policy on what they can’t wear. If this includes appropriate footwear, such as steel toe capped boots, then make sure it is placed within their contract.

Summer alterations

Employers may adopt a more casual approach to their dress code during the summer, but this may depend on the type of business. Some employers may require staff to wear business dress all year because of the nature of the work, for example client facing roles where companies need to maintain a certain standard.

Employers may have a “no flip flop” policy as a health and safety precaution, but any restrictions should be clearly set out in the organisation’s policy.

If you make any changes, make sure everyone within your organisation is aware – When drafting or updating a dress code, it is good for you to consider the reason behind this. Good practice is to discuss with employees about the proposed dress code, to make sure that the code is acceptable to both the organisation and employees. Once agreed, the changes need to be communicated clearly to all members of staff.

Special occasions

Employees will need to ask their employers if they’d like to make an exception to the dress code due to a specific day, event or occasion. For example, on Save the Children’s Christmas jumper day, employees may be allowed to wear a Christmas jumper, or allowed to wear pyjamas for a charity fundraiser.

Some employers have different dress codes for different days of the week, a lot of companies have a ‘dress down Friday’, this needs to be communicated effectively to the team.

Tattoos, piercings and hair styles

Tattoos and piercings come under the same rules as other workplace dress codes. This means an employer would be able to request that they are covered or removed, with a valid business reason for doing so.

The employer would need to include this within their written policy. Employees often mention hair within their dress code policies as well, they might require hair to be a natural colour or specifically mention certain hair styles.

This is allowed as long as it isn’t discriminatory. Men and women must be treated equally, but don’t need to be subject to the exact same rules.

Nail varnish or acrylics

In some work places nail varnish is not acceptable, this rule is usually applicable in the food and medical industry and is to do if nail polish chips, an acrylic falls off, risk of infection and the spread of germs.

This may include toe nails and having your feet on display with nail varnish on can be unhygienic. If this is your policy, make sure it is laid out within your employee guidelines. If a member of staff comes in with nail varnish on, you are within your right to ask them to remove it.