Due to several high-profile cases, workplace dress codes are becoming increasingly controversial. Surprising thought it may seem, employers in the UK are still free to impose dress codes, and many still do. So what should you bear in mind to ensure you aren’t exposed to claims of discrimination?
It was widely reported recently that Virgin Atlantic have recently announced that its female cabin crew are no longer required to wear makeup, and Nicola Thorp made headline news after the company she worked for insisted that she had to wear high heels to work. Many employers on the UK still do impose a dress code, generally to ensure a smart, corporate image or to meet with health and safety obligations.
Depending on the nature of your business, you may wish to issue your employees with guidelines with regards to dress code.
Our top tips are as follows:
Consider the rationale behind imposing address code
What do you want to achieve? Is it to promote your company brand or for health and safety reasons?
Whether it’s asking women to wear heels, asking employees not to wear clothing that demonstrate their faith, or requesting tattoos be covered up, if an employer knowingly discriminates against a group of employees this can lead to further action. Any restriction on articles of clothing or appearance needs to be justified and applied to all groups equally to ensure that discrimination does not occur.
Health & Safety is key
If you need to place restrictions on employees and enforce a dress code, this must be connected to a real business or safety requirement. Organisations in the manufacturing, healthcare, or hospitality industries, for example, will want to ensure that staff follow any policies to the letter to keep the workplace environment as hygienic and safe as possible. Be clear over requirements around wearing protective personal equipment (PPE) and the consequences of not following the guidelines.
Don’t keep it set in stone
Although for many industries dress codes are really important to ensure a reasonable and consistent standard of dress, adjustments should be made in certain cases. For example, for people with disabilities, employers must be aware that following a dress code exactly can cause difficulties. This could include reducing confidence, increasing stigma, or having to alter a uniform to accommodate their disability. If you require your employees to wear smart business attire, consider dress down days on Fridays or periodically.
Whatever the dress code you decide to implement, it is important that it is both properly communicated to all employees and enforced fairly and consistently. Employees need to know both what is expected of them and the penalty for failing to comply with a published policy.
Conversations around appearance and dress can be uncomfortable, so make sure your managers are able to deal with this appropriately, fairly and informally.
If you need support with designing or implementing a dress code, get in touch!
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