Dress code policy or express yourself?

25th May 2022

For many of us, our high heels, suit jackets and ties have been gathering dust in our wardrobes for the last couple of years. Is that where they will stay or will their time come again? Do we still need a dress code policy?

Blake Morgan Employment Associate, Madeleine Mould, asks where employers should draw the line when it comes to letting staff dress as they wish in an article first published in the Reward Strategy digital magazine Issue 225.

As businesses and workers alike settle into a steadier post-pandemic routine, whether working from home (WFH), hybrid working or full-time in person, employers may want to revisit their dress code policies and check that they still strike an appropriate balance between business need and employee preferences.

Should we have a dress code?

Whether or not a formal policy is required will depend on the nature of the business. For some businesses, strict standards need to be adhered to for health & safety reasons, for others, employees’ dress is an essential ingredient in the ‘brand’ of the organisation; and for others, a uniform is necessary so that staff members are quickly and easily identifiable. However, this is not always the case, technology or professional services firms may not have such strong factors in play, allowing for much more flexibility.

However, it’s important to be aware of implicit dress and appearance norms (including personal hygiene expectations). In the absence of an express dress code, there may still be unspoken standards of what is seen as ‘acceptable’ in the workplace and those who do not conform may be judged or discriminated against, sometimes unconsciously.

Unspoken expectations and standards can still amount to provisions, criteria or practices for the purposes of indirect discrimination claims, if there is sufficient evidence of them.

Having a written dress code policy provides employers (in consultation with staff) the opportunity to carefully consider what the rules should be, whether they are justified and whether they give rise to any discrimination risks.

What employers should watch out for in a dress code policy

Employers should test any resulting policy against the following:

  • Does it adhere to health & safety?
  • Does it comply with the Equality Act 2010?
  • Sex – policies should be expressed as equivalent for men and women, not requiring specific attire applicable to women only
  • Religious or philosophical beliefs
  • Disability
  • Gender reassignment
  • Is it clear?

You can read the article in full here.

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