As an employer it is important that you protect the reputation of your business and meet your health and safety responsibilities: one way of doing this is to have a policy that sets out what employees should wear to work. As recent case law has demonstrated though, determining your approach can be a complex task, not least because of the need to be mindful of discrimination legislation.

Understandably, when we’re helping draft policies for employers we find there is confusion as to what expectations they can set in relation to appearance, with queries such as if beards and tattoos can be banned, or if male employees can be told to wear shirts and ties is not unusual.

With how we work constantly changing, we’re all more familiar with increased use of technology and concepts such as working from home and flexible working, in many ways it makes sense that our approach to clothing and appearance should adapt too. By not adapting, according to a recent news report on tattoos, we risk a reduced pool of potential recruits. As we see it, the challenge for employers is fast becoming how to strike a balance between ensuring a positive image to clients and suppliers with attracting a diverse range of talent.

Think practically & reasonably

Of course in many workplaces such as construction, manufacturing and hospitality, there can be little room for relaxing the dress code as health, safety and hygiene compliance will largely determine your approach. For any decisions beyond this we recommend that employers think practically and reasonably:

  • Communicate clearly. As with any policy it is important to ensure that employees are aware of it, and that they understand that failure to comply with it will be treated as a disciplinary matter;
  • Be consistent. Implementing your policy consistently to male and female employees is crucial. As an employer you may be surprised to learn that you can treat men and women differently, as long as you apply your approach consistently and don’t treat one or other of the sexes less favourably;
  • Consider justification. Ultimately, if an employee refuses to comply with your dress code policy, in the event of as claim you will need to be able to demonstrate that a certain style of appearance would be detrimental to your business or prove a risk from a health and safety perspective;
  • Provide training for your manager/s on how to deal with someone they think is inappropriately dressed. It is important that they are equipped with the skills to avoid potential discrimination risks in their everyday management;
  • Handle objections sensitively. How employees dress can be a very personal issue, with the potential for them to feel as though their right to freedom of expression is unnecessarily compromised. Where possible, give thought to how you might accommodate reasonable requests.

We at Willis Consulting and Employment Services can help with guidance on all of the above and will work in partnership with you to help you review your dress code policy, consider the potential implications for your business, draft an updated policy and deliver management training to help with implementing the policy and handling objections. 

Call us today on 02890 329042 or email us to a member of the Willis Consulting team will be happy to help.

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