A dress code is a set of standards that companies develop to help provide their employees with guidance about what is appropriate to wear to work. Dress codes range from formal to business casual to casual.
Dress codes are often used in the workplace, there are many reasons why dress codes are put in place.
Reasons can range from:
- Wearing a uniform – This can be used to communicate a corporate identity and ensure that customers can easily identify them.
- Health & Safety – For example health care workers may not be allowed to wear jewellery when around patients and certain clothing may not be allowed in factories while operating machinery.
- Hygiene Reasons – Employee’s may be told to tie their hair back or cover it when working in a kitchen.
An employer’s dress code must not be discriminatory in respect of the protected characteristics in the Equality Act 2010 for age, disability, gender reassignment, religion or belief, sex, or sexual orientation.
Employers may have a policy that sets out a reasonable standard of dress and appearance for their organisation. Any dress code should be non-discriminatory and should apply to both men and women equally. Standards can be different, for example a policy may state for men “must wear a tie”.
Employers may wish to promote a certain image through their workers which they believe reflects the ethos of their organisations. Sometimes this can mean that they ask workers to remove piercings or cover tattoos while at work, especially when dealing with customers. If an employer does decide to adopt a dress code or appearance code it should be written down in a policy which should be communicated to all staff so they understand what standards are expected from them. Some employers have started to reconsider their strict “no tattoo” policies following media reports and online petitions
Things to look out for:
- Employers must avoid unlawful discrimination in any dress code policy.
- Reasonable adjustments must be made for disabled people when dress codes are in place.
- Dress codes must apply to both men and women equally, although they may have different requirements.
- Dress codes should not be a cause of any less favourable treatment for a group of individuals as this could be considered direct discrimination.
Working Conditions – Employers may adopt a more casual approach to their dress code during the summer, but this may depend on the type of business. For instance, a working in an office environment working conditions may become uncomfortable. Employers may allow employees to wear sandals, shorts or no ties.
Charities – There may be times when employees wish to support different charities, and they would like to ask for exceptions to the normal dress code rules, for example jeans for jeans day, Christmas jumper day etc. On these occasions people should ask their line manager if it would be ok to take part.
Updating a dress code:
It is good practice when updating a dress code for an employer to consider the reasoning behind it. Consulting with employees over any proposed dress code may ensure that the code is acceptable to both the organisation and employees. Once agreed it should be communicated to all employees. When setting out a policy employer should take into account employees who may dress in a certain way for religious reasons. 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.
If employees do not comply with the standards it may result in a disciplinary hearing.