Free Enterprise - The FindLaw Small Business Law Blog

Are Your Female Employees Freezing to Death?

Women: You're not crazy. That feeling like you can't get warm in the office? That's because the office air conditioning wasn't designed for you.

And it turns out a chilly office can have some adverse effects on the entire staff. So, bosses, here's how to make your office a comfortable and constructive work environment for the whole team, not just the dudes.

The Problem With Cold Offices

A study published in National Climate Change revealed that the majority of office thermostats are set on a formula devised in the 1960s and based on a warmer male metabolic rate. Considering women are around 50 percent of the workforce, that means the temperature is too cold for half the office. This difference is only exacerbated in the summer, with a greater disparity between outside and inside temperature and most men remaining in a suit and tie while the majority of women may opt for lighter outfits.

Not only are female employees less comfortable in colder offices, all employees could be less productive when the temperature drops. A 2004 study noted that cold employees worked more slowly and were more error-prone: "When the office temperature in a month-long study increased from 68 to 77 degrees Fahrenheit, typing errors fell by 44 percent and typing output jumped 150 percent."

Save the Female Employees, Save the Planet

Want another reason to use less AC? You can cut down on greenhouse gas emissions and other pollutants from air conditioning units, which in turn make the planet hotter, thus necessitating more air conditioning. Plus, think of the money you'll save on your energy bill each month.

Dr. Boris Kingma, a biophysicist who co-authored the office air conditioning study suggests recalibrating the formula for setting building thermostats to account for more female employees. "If you have a more accurate view of the thermal demand of the people inside, then you can design the building so that you are wasting a lot less energy, and that means the carbon dioxide emission is less."

So if seeing your female staff bundled in blankets at their desks doesn't convince you to warm up the office a bit, perhaps increased productivity, decreased energy costs, and a healthier environment will. 

If you're worried about litigation, you're probably OK for now: we couldn't find a case of female employees successfully suing their employer for a frost-ile work environment. However, if you are concerned about issues of employment discrimination, you should consult with an experience employment lawyer in your area.

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