Work place dress codes

Nowadays not one day seems to go by without the press reporting on a business man receiving adverse publicity resulting from allegations of harassment of employees or a company falling foul of campaigns to avoid gender stereotyping of people in the work environment. The new culture and high profile campaigns make some business owners feel as if they are walking a tightrope between:

• Having the authority to issue employees with dress code guidelines to ensure that all company employees look the part to make the business a success and, more importantly, their choice of clothes do not present a health and safety risk and 

• The potential for employees to make grievances and tribunal claims.

Top London employment solicitors are used to receiving calls from employers and employees asking whether an employee can be required to wear a work uniform and how reasonable it is to distinguish between male and female attire in work uniforms. In many companies employers do not believe it is necessary to require employees to wear a uniform but do ask employees to adhere to a dress code. You would think that following a dress code would be straight forward but if an employer issues a dress code the question of whether an employee is complying with the dress code can be a matter of subjective opinion. After all what constitutes smart casual attire to one person can be deemed scruffy chinos to another.

Some employers may question why their company needs top Employment solicitor advice on what their employees wear, when after all, in the big scheme of things are there not more important things to concentrate on, such as compliance with health and safety rules or making profit? At OTS Solicitors our top employment law solicitors recognise that what people wear to work is not perhaps a top priority for all employers but avoiding ructions in the work place and employment law claims at the employment tribunal is pretty important. If a company does not have procedures in place all sorts of issues can crop up such as:

• Allegations that female or male employees are being discriminated by the company dress code, for example , why do males have to wear a suit even in a heatwave but female employees can wear a summer dress; 

• Allegations that dress codes do not meet religious or cultural needs or personal choice, for example, the short little black waitress dress may be acceptable to some female employees but not to other females who prefer to dress more conservatively and/or are expected to do so as part of their faith;

• Allegations that work wear does not meet the needs of disabled employees, after all what clothes suit an able bodied person to someone in a wheelchair or wearing an ostomy pouch can be very different;

• Allegations that some employees are being unfairly treated as a result of the company dress code being more rigorously enforced against some employees and not others;

• Allegations that the women’s company dress code is stereotyping women and potentially promoting harassment at work, for example the requirement to wear make-up, a short skirt, or high heels etc.;

• Allegations that for transgender employees a policy of rigid adherence to a dress code based upon gender stereotyping does not meet their needs;

• Allegations that a staff uniform is not fit for purpose, for example not allowing staff to wear their own coats over their uniforms when working outside or in a non-heated environment and failing to supply a coat as part of the staff uniform.

These few examples show that human resource managers and companies face a daily battle of treading the fine line between what is a reasonable staff uniform or dress code and a company policy that will lead to workplace dissatisfaction and if employees vote with their feet and leave to extra recruitment costs. In the worst case scenario, facing employment law claims and adverse publicity.

Dress code guidance for employers by the Equalities Office

The Equalities Office has published guidance on workplace dress codes. The guidance acknowledges that dress codes will be different in different work environments, after all what type of dress code works in a busy high end London restaurant will be very different to what sort of dress code is needed from a health and safety perspective at an oil refinery plant.

The important point from an employer’s point of view is that the guidance recognises that a workplace dress code can be a reasonable part of an employer’s terms and conditions of Employment. Despite that acknowledgement the guidance does go onto highlight some of the legal and employment law risks of implementing a workplace dress code.

Can a company dress code be different for male and female employees?

The government guidance recognises that a workplace dress code does not need to have exactly the same standards of dress for men and women, provided similar or equivalent rules are laid down for both male and female employees. For example the dress code could not say that men must wear business attire at all times but women can wear casual attire.

The guidance recommends that employers:

• Avoid gender specific clothing requirements in their dress codes, for example, that women should wear high heels or can only wear skirts or dresses to work;

• Avoid gender specific presentation requirements, for example that women should wear make-up, or have manicured nails;

• Avoid requests for female employees to dress in a manner that some might consider provocative, for example to wear a little black dress, because this could lead to an increased risk of harassment by colleagues or customers or a perception that female staff are not valued;

• Respect transgender employees and provide for transgender employees to be allowed to follow the work place dress code in a way which the transgender person feels matches their gender identity. If there is a staff uniform that provides a choice of traditional male or female attire, they should be allowed to choose which option to wear.

• May need to make adjustments to a dress code if it puts a disabled person at a substantial disadvantage, for example, the work uniform is too loose and flowing for a disabled wheel chair user.

Preventing dress code issues for human resource managers  

Top London employment law solicitors are proactive in keeping employers abreast of complex employment law. At OTS Solicitors we pride ourselves on offering large and small companies bespoke employment law training services on compliance and prevention. At OTS Solicitors we believe that knowledge and prevention of problems cropping up is better than companies having to seek advice from top London employment law solicitors once there is an employment law problem. At OTS Solicitors we recognise that companies are as individual as people and our employment law training programmes therefore cater to the individual company needs.

With the right employment law team on an employer’s side, dress code policies can be reviewed and if a problem does crop up, then with OTS Solicitors you know that expert employment law help is available to give peace of mind and to enable the company to focus on its profits rather than the minutia of what employees are wearing.  

OTS Solicitors are specialist in employment law matters. For advice and support on any aspect of employment law please call us on 0203 959 9123 to arrange an appointment to speak to one of our experienced London employment solicitors.

 

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