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How can I implement an employee dress code?

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Dress codes and uniforms can be a useful tool for employers to convey a professional image, promote the company brand, and create a safe workplace. However, dress codes can also raises issues of discrimination, employee comfort, and health and safety. This article explores some of these issues and how employers can manage them in their own dress codes. 

Health and Safety

Employers have a duty to ensure, as far as reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare of all employees at work. This duty may include the provision of personal protective equipment (PPE) where relevant. If employees are required to wear PPE as part of their role, this should be clearly stated in the dress code and enforced in practice.

Employers should also ensure that their dress code doesn’t have any onerous requirements which could interfere with the health, safety and welfare of employees. For example, a requirement for men to always be in a full suit may cause discomfort in the summer months when the weather is warmer. An employer in this instance may consider if the dress code could be relaxed for the summer months or if they might only require employees to wear a suit in specific situations such as when meeting clients.

Employers should also consider how the dress code may affect employees with disabilities. Under the Equality Act 2010, employers are required to make reasonable adjustments for employees with disabilities. One reasonable adjustment could be adjusting or not applying the dress code where it has a more onerous impact on disabled employees.

Sex Discrimination

Issues of sex discrimination may arise when implementing a dress code. Case law has established that employers can have different dress requirements for men and women. This won’t amount to less favourable treatment as long as the requirements for each gender are similar or equivalent. A dress code which only requires men to dress “smartly,” but places many restrictions on what women can wear, would likely be discriminatory.

Government guidance on dress codes and sexism in the workplace states that though dress code requirements don’t need to be identical, they must not be a source of harassment. For instance, in one tribunal case, an employer told a female server to wear a top which the employee felt was too tight and showed too much cleavage. The employer told her not to be a prude and also to wear red lipstick to “tart herself up a bit”. The employee was subsequently dismissed for wearing a similar but more modest shirt. The employee succeeded in her discrimination claim. The tribunal reasoned that she was treated less favourably on the grounds of her sex as the requirement to wear a revealing uniform would not have been applied to a male employee. The employer’s remarks also amounted to harassment.

Even though it is permissible to have different sets of standards for men and women, employers should be mindful of how having different requirements may affect employee morale and whether the different requirements are truly necessary. Employers should also make it clear that transgender employees are permitted to dress according to the standard of their preferred gender.

Religious Discrimination

Dress codes should be drafted in a way that do not directly or indirectly discriminate against people due to their religion or philosophical belief. People of different faiths may be required to adhere to certain dress requirements such as:

  • headscarves,
  • turbans and
  • clerical collars.  

Guidance from the EHRC states that religious symbols should be permitted if they do not interfere with the employee’s work. This may require employers to make an exception to the dress code to accommodate specific individuals. If religious symbols must be banned for health and safety reasons this should be clearly explained in the policy.

What can employers do now?

  1. Review your company’s dress code  and make sure it doesn’t impose harsher obligations on one gender over the other.
  2. Ensure that where possible, accommodations are made for people of different religious beliefs.
  3. Consult directly with employees or their representatives about the dress code and what they feel is reasonable.
  4. Communicate the dress code to all staff and make sure it is enforced fairly.

Dress codes work best when they take into account the safety and comfort of all staff. If you need assistance drafting a dress code for your workplace, our Document Audit Team would be happy to help. Contact the Employment Team today on employment@warnergoodman.co.uk or by calling 023 8071 7717.