Surprisingly, dress codes or policies are an issue we get a lot of enquiries about. It is also something that appears in the media quite frequently. For example, the media reported this year on the clash British Airways had with a cabin crew union about new women recruits being allowed the right to wear trousers.
Issues for employers include what is acceptable for a dress code and what can be done about employees not adhering to a dress code. We are often asked how an employee can be approached or possibly disciplined where they are seen to be dressing inappropriately for their work. Tattoos and piercings are often the most controversial aspects of any dress code or policy in the workplace. We noted the recent media reports on the lady refused access to Sri Lanka because of her tattoo of the Buddha. Although this was not employment related, it does demonstrate how sensitive such matters can be.
If you are contemplating writing or updating any dress code, here are some helpful tips to assist you:
- Context is key when writing a dress code. If the business is a professional service company who have important customers or clients visiting regularly, then professional dress is a must and that can be reflected in any dress code. If the workplace is more creative (e.g. web design), then suits and such like may not be a necessity.
- If a uniform is required to be worn, then that should be specified and also what can or cannot be done to “individualise” a uniform should be made clear.
- If certain items of clothing are necessary from a health and safety perspective (e.g. high visibility jackets or steel toecap boots), then this should be reflected in any dress code and also ideally, in any contract of employment as well. There should also be an indication of what would happen if the safety dress was not worn i.e. disciplinary action.
- If you are going to set down rules on visible tattoos and piercings, do carefully consider what would be acceptable in the business. It is estimated that more than a third of 16-44 year olds in the UK have tattoos and piercings, so setting down very strict rules may limit your pool of qualified candidates for a particular role.
- There should always be exceptions for religious or cultural dress, unless health and safety rules prevent this. As reported on before, in the case of Eweida and ors v UK (2013), a nurse (Ms Chaplin) was not successful in her case for discrimination on the grounds of religion or belief because the hospital where she worked were able to justify the requirement for not allowing her to wear a cross necklace on health and safety grounds. Our article on this can be found here.
- It is permissable to have different rules for men and women, but you should ensure that the rules are not more stringent for one group than the other.This will avoid the risk that the policy will be deemed as indirectly discriminatory on the grounds of sex.
- Do consider whether there may be times when the dress code should be relaxed, such as for periods of hot weather.
If you are considering putting in place a new dress code, particularly one that involves a significant change, then it is a good idea to consult with your employees about this and to receive their feedback on what the rules should be. We can help you with this – just give us a call.
If employees breach the dress code, the first approach should of course be to have an informal word with the employee about this. If that fails to elicit any change, then it may be possible to commence formal disciplinary action in accordance with any disciplinary procedure.
Do you need help with drafting or amending a dress code? We can help! Please contact any member of the Pure Employment Law team (01243 836840 or [email protected]).