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Are dress codes outdated or an effective way of maintaining a professional image in the workplace?

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A school in New Zealand has recently come under fire for telling girls to wear skirts below the knee, to “keep our girls safe, stop boys from getting ideas and create a good work environment for male staff”. The students didn’t object to uniform rules; however the thought behind it sparked outrage.

While most schools in the UK have some form of uniform which may have penalties for not being followed, when moving into the workplace, the rules tend to be less straightforward. Whilst most customer facing jobs such as retail, hospitality, and travel have set uniforms or particular colour schemes for example, most other roles don’t have such specific rules.

Employment team Partner, Howard Robson says; “For employees in workplaces where there is no set uniform, or chance of meeting with guests or clients, there can be a lot more flexibility with regards to what staff can be expected to wear. You wouldn’t expect call centre workers to wear suits for example, like you probably wouldn’t allow account managers to host client meetings in tracksuits. Where to draw the line can be difficult, as mentioning skirt length with the justification given by the school could be seen as discriminatory, implying that men cannot be held responsible for their actions, and that women are the ones at fault. Comments such as these could be misinterpreted and possibly lead to a claim for sexual discrimination.”

Howard continues: “We would advise having a specific section of the employee handbook addressing the issue of clothing in the workplace. This should outline any specific requirements for appropriate dress, such as when facing clients, or any times it is appropriate to dress in a different way, such as dress-down days, which are fairly common in offices where formal dress is usually required. “

For information on employee handbooks, and how our Peace of Mind team can help your workplace, contact the Warner Goodman employment team on 02380 717719.


This is for information purposes only and is no substitute for, and should not be interpreted as, legal advice.  All content was correct at the time of publishing and we cannot be held responsible for any changes that may invalidate this article.