Does the “new normal” mean a new dress code?


14th September 2021

As many employees return to the office for the first time in September, organisations may be thinking about how they adapt dress codes to reflect new hybrid working habits.

Employment Solicitor Menna Chmielewski looks at some of the key considerations to ensure that any dress code is non-discriminatory and is applied consistently in an article first published in Personnel Today on 10 September.

Working from home for over a year, many of us have got used to our own, more flexible standards – from when and how we work, to what we wear. But as we return to the office, have our expectations changed here forever, and what does this mean for the office dress code? A recent survey has shown that 28% of people in Britain wish to ditch formal office attire and even smart casual from the work dress code.

Key considerations for dress code policies:

  • Employers need to ensure that any code is non-discriminatory. Many employees may want or feel obliged to wear certain items for religious reasons, such as turbans, hijabs, crosses or bangles. However sometimes these wishes conflict with an employer’s dress code and consideration needs to be given to whether a potentially indirectly discriminatory dress code can be objectively justified.
  • Linked to the above, the policy should usually be applied equally to both men and women. While it is permissible to have different rules for men and women, the rules should not be more stringent for one group than another. Government Guidance from 2018 confirms that equivalent standards should be imposed on both genders and that it is best to avoid “gender-specific requirements” such as the requirement for women to wear make-up or high heels.
  • Employers should endeavour to be flexible and reasonable, consulting with employees to ensure that the policy is acceptable. Some items of clothing will never be appropriate for the workplace; however, allowing men to remove a tie and/or jacket may be reasonable, particularly when it is hot. Additionally, although employers may wish to set a home working dress code, they should seek to reach an agreement with employees. It might be that different dress codes are appropriate depending on the work the employee has that day, for example attending a client meeting (whether in person or at home) may require different guidelines compared to when an employee is working from home without such meetings or if they are in the office.
  • Employers should consider any health and safety concerns when devising a dress code policy. It might be that employees are required to use certain equipment (for example, for protective purposes) given the nature of their work, and relaxing a dress code policy is simply not possible.

Click here to read the article in full.

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