• Lee Calver
  • 2 September 2014

How can employers ensure that a workplace dress code is the perfect fit?

The majority of workplaces have some form of dress code and it is important that employers are aware of how best to deal with this sometimes tricky issue.

Many employers enforce dress codes to ensure that the uniform communicates a corporate image and so that customers can easily identify them. Of course there are also health and safety reasons why a dress code is a necessity, while religion must also be considered.

Acas has recently issued guidance in relation to workplace dress codes, which will be useful for employers who are in the process of drafting or reviewing their policy.

The key points include:

  • Employers must avoid unlawful discrimination in any dress code policy.
  • Employers may have health and safety reasons for having certain standards - for example health care workers may not be allowed to wear jewellery for safety reasons when around patients and certain clothing may not be allowed in factories while operating machinery.
  • Dress codes must apply to men and women equally, although they may have different requirements. (e.g. ‘business dress’ for women, and men ‘must wear a tie’).
  • Reasonable adjustments must be made for disabled people when dress codes are in place.
  • If requiring tattoos to be covered up and / or piercings to be removed, employers should have sound business reasons for doing so which should be documented in the policy.
  • Employers are advised to tread cautiously in relation to religious dress, as employees should be permitted to wear articles of clothing that manifest their religious faith. However, workers can be required not to wear certain items that could be deemed a safety risk, for example loose clothing may be a hazard if operating machinery.

Acas recognises that while a number of employers may adopt a more casual approach to dress during the summer, some firms may require staff to wear business dress all year round because of the nature of their work - for example sales representatives who meet with clients will most likely need to maintain a certain standard.

Even when the weather is warmer though and employers do allow a relaxed dress code, it is not uncommon for organisations to ban the wearing of flip-flops on health and safety grounds. If you choose to enforce these restrictions, they should all be highlighted in an organisation’s policy.

Offering further advice for employers, Acas states that it is good practice when drafting or updating a dress code to consider the reasoning behind it. Consulting with employees over any proposed dress code should ensure that the code is acceptable to both the organisation and employees.

Once a code is agreed, it must then be communicated to all staff. Furthermore, employees need to be made aware that if they do not comply with the standards, it may result in a disciplinary hearing.

Tattoos and body piercings

Many employers wish to promote a particular image through their workers which will reflect the ethos of their organisations; meaning some bosses will want employees to remove piercings or cover tattoos whilst at work.

In its guidance, Acas warns employers that they should carefully consider the reason behind enforcing a rule such as this and must ensure they have sound business reasons for requiring specific dress codes.

If you do decide to adopt a dress code or appearance code demanding employees to cover up tattoos or remove piercings, it needs to be communicated to all staff so they realise exactly what is expected of them.

Religious dress

If employers wish to ban certain items of clothing that are deemed religious dress, it is crucial they justify the reasons for prohibiting employees wearing such items and must ensure they are not indirectly discriminating against certain members of staff. Acas reminds employers that any restrictions should be connected to a real business or safety requirement.

Always remember

Any employer operating a dress code must consider all of the above issues and any others that may apply to their organisation. Remember that consulting with employees over any proposed dress code is a good way to ensure that both you and your staff will be happy with the outcomes. Once the code is drawn up, communicate it to all of your employees so they are fully aware of what is expected of them. Lastly, make sure that any dress policies form part of your organisation’s induction programme so all new starters from the very beginning of their employment understand the company’s rules.