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As summer approaches, experts address issues of dress codes, vacation request policies, child labor, and seasonal hires

With warm, pleasant weather and the summer season fast approaching, the potential for employment law problems increases in the workplace. From companies struggling to accommodate multiple vacation requests and operating with minimal staff, to skimpy summer fashion that could prompt sexual harassment claims, employment law experts are helping companies navigate through the workplace dilemmas created by the summer months and warm weather. For many industries, such as hospitality and entertainment, summer can be one of the busiest seasons –sparking the need to hire part-time employees such as teenagers seeking summer work. So what are the best tactics employers can use to run a productive summer workforce while remaining compliant with employment-related laws?

Experts from labor and employment law firm Fisher & Phillips LLP recommend the following tips to current company leaders:

  1. Prevent hot weather harassment. The hot summer months often bring shorter skirts, more revealing tops, and flip flops as the footwear of choice. Employers considering relaxed summer dress codes must be particularly vigilant, as more revealing attire can generate inappropriate comments and horseplay. Employees should be reminded of anti-harassment and other employee conduct rules when a more relaxed seasonal dress code is in effect. Regardless of a company’s appearance standards, it is imperative to have a solid written policy that is consistently enforced, especially during the summer months when increased casual dress could result in a sexual harassment lawsuit.
  2. Plan ahead for vacation requests. The summer typically bring many requests for vacation that could potentially leave an unprepared employer understaffed. To avoid possible hardship on management, companies should ensure that its employee handbook and vacation policy clearly indicate that all vacation requests must be made in advance, must be approved by management, and may be denied if granting the request would create a hardship on the company.
  3. If hiring teens, know specific child labor regulations. As teenagers celebrate the end of another school year, millions of students will also be looking for summer jobs to gain valuable experience, earn extra money and put a line on a future résumé. But hiring staff under the age of 18 requires the compliance of specific labor laws, such as limitations on work hours and the number of hours worked within a specific time period. In-depth knowledge and understanding of the state’s child labor laws can prevent costly legal actions before they occur.
  4. Protect against liability when hiring temporary summer workers. Many companies –particularly in the hospitality and entertainment industries –rely upon short-term staffers to help get through the busy summer season. However, in today’s era of rampant litigation, employers are a target and must be aware of the legal liabilities they face in regards to hiring temporary employees. For this reason, job advertisements should clearly state that the position is a temporary one, and employers should not guarantee a specific length of employment. In addition, if you’re hiring people to work on a holiday or odd hours, you should say so up front.
  5. Don’t overlook the importance of background checks for temporary workers. In general, it’s a good idea to do at least a criminal background check on all viable job applicants. Background screening firms will work with employers to comply with federal and state laws, and make recommendations as to the types of background checks necessary based upon the job’s requirements and duties. Remember that some seasonal employees may become full-time staff, and communicating expectations is important.
  6. Ensure company handbook addresses compensation issues for those who work holidays. Employers are under no obligation to provide any additional compensation to employees that work on holidays such as Fourth of July and Labor Day. Company handbooks and other written policies should specify company expectations and communicate them clearly to employees. In fact, employers may implement handbooks and policies specifically for their temporary staff.
  7. Prepare for sudden summer “sick” days. It’s no secret that employees conveniently seem to get “sick” on the ideal beach day. To prevent the dreaded “summer flu” employers should have a policy regarding the requirement of a doctor’s note for an unexpected illness, which should be clearly communicated and enforced in a consistent manner.

Source: Fisher & Phillips LLP; www.laborlawyers.com.