Issues for employers when developing dress codes

Dress codes in employment situations

Different employers will have different principles on what it is that their employees can wear when they come to work. Often the industry which the employer is involved in will have a role to play in the dress of employees. For example individuals employed within legal firms will be required to adhere to some form of corporate wear whereas the dress code for individuals working in other industries such as media may be much more on the relaxed side.

Ultimately it is the decision on the employer as to what is permitted dress for their staff.

What are the reasons why an employer may want to maintain a strict dress code?

The main reason why an employer may want to maintain a strict dress code is that in many employment situations staff will have contact with clients and other external parties. The employer will thus regard them as representing the company.

Accordingly they will be required to act on behalf of the company adhering to the best possible standards, including dress.

In other employment situations having an appropriate dress code is necessary for health and safety reasons.

As an employer should I ensure that all staff adheres to the dress code, even those who are not meeting external clients?

It is the decision of the employer as to what the standard dress code for an employment situation may be. In many offices there will be large amounts of employees who do not meet external clients for meetings but are still required by their employer to adhere to a strict dress code. Many employers will feel that to create the right atmosphere in the office corporate attire must be adhered to regardless of the fact that an individual is simply in the office. Other employers, however, may adopt a more relaxed attitude taking the feeling that employees may work better when they are comfortable and relaxed.

When creating a standard dress code are there any legal issues which I should be aware of?

When an employer is creating a standard code for dress and grooming in the office in order for this to be legally enforceable there can be no restriction on gender equality or religious freedom.

Furthermore in order for it be effective employees must be able to understand it clearly and follow it correctly.

What should I try and do in order to implement an effective dress and grooming code?

When trying to create an effective employee dress code an employer should try and take consideration of the following things:

  • To take into consideration the employees’ roles and their visibility to the world outside the office
  • To be sensitive in relation to gender and religion issues
  • To ensure that the policy is clear and that it is firmly communicated to all employees

What should I do before implementing a dress and grooming code for my employees?

When trying to establish a dress and grooming code for your employees it is important that an employer takes into consideration the following aspects:

  • Putting the guide in writing
  • Knowing any potential legal pitfalls
  • Keeping up to date with any potential changes

Putting the guide in writing

When an employer is putting together a code concerning dress and grooming at work it is important that this is put in writing. If an employer does not put this in writing and relies simply on the general conduct of employees knowing what is acceptable and what is not they may leave themselves open when trying to enforce this against a particular employee. It is always best to have something in writing.

Knowing any potential legal pitfalls

If an employer is to suffer accusations of discrimination based on dress requirements this can be a drain on resources and significantly dent morale. It is therefore imperative that when establishing a code that an employer is fully aware of all the potential legalities.

Keeping up to date with any potential changes

Often the legal, ethical and practical issues that are concerned when making an employee dress code can change quickly. It is therefore imperative that employers take are up to date with any potential changes. This can include such issues as tattoos, make-up and fashion trends.

Once I have my dress code in place is there any issues that I should be aware of?

Once a dress code is in place it is good practice for an employer to adhere to the following requirements:

  • Ensuring that the dress code is communicated to employees effectively – employers should add it to the training manual requiring a signature to make sure that new employees are aware of and understand the requirements
  • Providing reasons why the requirements are in place – whether they are for health and safety, health or image
  • Ensuring that an employee who is in breach of the dress code fully understands what the issue is and how it can be fixed
  • Ensuring that you are consistent in all aspects of the dress code
  • Considering any reasonable adjustments where necessary

Potential legal challenges to a dress code

What are the potential legal challenges that can be brought against an employment dress code?

The main possibilities of legal challenge that can be brought against a dress code in the work place is on the grounds of gender equality or religious freedom.

For a dress code to be legal do men and women have to be treated identically?

In order for a dress code to be legal an employer should ensure that they do not treat one sex less favorably. However, this does not mean that the requirements for men and women have to be identical.

For example when a dress code states that the standard of dress should be smart, fit and for the purpose for a job such as one in the police force it would follow that women with long hair may fall within the code whereas men may not.

This has been held to be a legal requirement.