Dress Code in the Workplace – By Elisabeth Chandler

Whilst it is understandable that companies want their employees to present a good image of their company, if the dress code policy is not written correctly, it can place companies at risk of claims of discrimination.  Only a few weeks has passed since Nicola Thorp was making headline news after the company she worked for insisting that she had to wear high heels in the workplace.  Petitions are currently being set up and the matter is being debated in the House of Commons but issues around dress codes in the workplace still remain in the headlines.

Another recent case involved Erin Sandilands taking Cecchini’s Bistro to an Employment Tribunal for a claim for discrimination where she was awarded £2,500 in compensation for injury to her feelings plus £1,060 in lost wages.  Erin was employed on a zero hours contract and her manager told her to wear her hair down and put on a “full face of make-up” and a skirt so that she would be “easy on the eye”, which she refused.  The day after her refusal she was told she would not be offered any more shifts.  Although the company had a dress code policy, the only thing it outlined was that employees had to wear black.  In the ET, the judge found the manager’s comments amounted to sex discrimination as it would not have been said to a male employee.

So what should a company consider when putting together a dress code to minimise claims? My top tips are:

  • Consider carefully what it is that the company wants to achieve by having a dress code policy – is about representing the company brand or is it for health and safety reasons?
  • Although you can apply different rules regarding dress codes for men and women, depending on job roles, ensure that there is a legitimate reason for the differences and it is not just convention.
  • Ensure the dress code is clear over what is considered acceptable and what is not in terms of dress code and communicate it clearly to all employees.
  • Be clear over requirements around wearing protective personal equipment (PPE) and the consequences of not following the guidelines.
  • Ensure that the dress code is applied consistently and fairly across the company.
  • Provide training to managers around having difficult conversations; conversations about appearance and dress can be quite uncomfortable so managers need to be equipped and feel comfortable in tackling issues correctly. It is better that managers try to deal with any dress code policy breaches informally before going to disciplinary.
  • If the company has a dress code which requires smart business attire, consider if or when this could be relaxed i.e. dress down days or in periods of extreme weather.

If you want to discuss how to design and implement a dress code policy, please contact HPC for support.

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