In 2018, the Government published new guidance on Dress Codes and Sex Discrimination – which you can read in full here. This followed a public outcry after one woman was sent home from her job for not wearing high heels. After much outrage, the government asked that employers reassess their dress code policies to ensure that they are ‘relevant and lawful’.
Though there is quite a lot of flexibility as to what you can put in your dress code, it is important that your policy is clear, fair and non-discriminatory. You should also consider your reasons as to why you ask your employees to wear certain things in the workplace.
This latest guidance publication aims to help re-establish and clarify the law when it comes to workplace dress codes.
Dress Code at Work Guidelines
Some of the key points that you should take away from this guidance document are:
- Dress codes should not discriminate i.e. men and women can wear trousers
- Dress codes should address both men and women. Their requirements do not have to be identical but there should be equal imposition.
- Women must not be asked to dress provocatively as this could lead to harassment
- Avoid gender-specific prescriptive requirements i.e. asking women to wear make-up but not asking the same of men
- It is best to consult with everyone, including your staff, before setting or revising a dress code
- Health and safety should also be considered when implementing a dress code
- Reasonable adjustments should be made for disabled employees
- Transgender employees should be allowed to follow the dress code policy in a way that they feel matches their gender identity
- Dress codes should not prohibit religious symbols if they do not interfere with an employee’s work
It is important that you take some time to read these guidance documents so that you clearly understand your responsibilities as an employer.
If you have any issues or concerns about this, then you can discuss it further with one of our professional HR consultants on 0845 2626 260.
Should Workplaces Have Dress Codes?
You may be the kind of manager or employer who doesn’t enforce a strict dress code, or any sort of dress code at all. More and more workplaces are opting for a casual and laid-back work environment by not implementing any set rules for how their employees must dress.
Of course, it’s common sense as an employee to realise that there are certain things that may not be appropriate or safe in the workplace (i.e. open-toe shoes in a factory) but, in general, even after taking the above into consideration, there is a lot of freedom as to what you can wear to work.
However, there are still many workplaces that are enforcing strict dress codes, some of which may be deemed as gender discrimination.
The Problem with Workplace Dress Code
Recently, Nicola Thorp started a petition demanding that it be made illegal for businesses to enforce a rule that it’s mandatory for women to wear heels in the workplace. This came after she was sent home from her temporary job for wearing flats rather than heels – stated as unreasonable dress code. The petition attracted over 150,000 signatures, yet it was rejected by parliament.
However, it did spark a reaction from the Government Equalities Office, who, in conjunction with ACAS, the Equality and Human Rights Commission, and the Health Safety Executive, created the business attire guidance seen above.
The question is, why should women be expected to wear an item of clothing that is uncomfortable and expensive when the alternative, flat shoes, is no more offensive or inappropriate?
It’s understandable when a company asks that skirts must be of a certain length and there is no allowance for strappy tops, but to enforce a rule of ‘high heels only’ doesn’t seem fair.
You could even go as far as to argue that heels are a health and safety hazard as they can lead to feet problems when worn too often and for long periods of time, and women are more likely to trip in heels, especially if they don’t typically wear them in their day to day life.
So Why are Businesses Allowed to Enforce Dress Code Rules?
Employers and business owners have a right to ask that employees have a professional image in the promotion of its activities, and a dress code means that the workforce look like a unified team.
However, whether an employee is wearing heels or flats is not going to affect the quality of their work or the reputation of the business, so, this type of rule feels a little too close to gender discrimination.
It can also work the other way around, too, with there being cases where male employees seem to be singled out. For example, companies who want to enforce the rule that male employees need to keep their hair short.
In many cases, there is no safety reason behind this and to assume that men with longer hair look ‘less professional or appropriate for the workplace’ seems discriminatory. Generally, it should be made clear in the employee handbooks what the expectation is when it comes to dress and appearance in the workplace.
But it’s important that, when putting this policy in place, you consider having flexibility and ensure that you remain equal between genders.
It’s usually best to outline an overall expectation i.e. smart casual, with a list of items that are restricted and situations where more flexibility is provided, such as during warmer days or on casual Fridays.
Even when more strict dress codes are applied, there should be allowances made when religion, gender and race come into play, and, as an employer, it’s your responsibility to ensure that all employees are aware of, and are comfortable with, the rules. If not, then a mutual and fair agreement must be met.
Example of an Appropriate Dress Code
Here is a simple and reasonable example of a business dress code:
“Employees are expected to dress professionally and maintain a neat and tidy appearance while at work. Clothing should be clean and free of offensive language or images. Business casual attire is acceptable, including collared shirts, slacks or khakis, skirts or dresses of an appropriate length, and closed-toe shoes. Inappropriate attire includes ripped or torn clothing, shorts, tank tops, and flip-flops. Exceptions may be made for specific work environments, such as safety gear in a manufacturing facility or uniforms in a hospitality setting. All employees should use good judgement and be considerate of their colleagues and clients when choosing their attire for the day.”
Example of an Inappropriate Dress Code
Here is an example of an inappropriate dress code for work:
“All female employees must wear high heels and adhere to a smart casual dress code at all times. Men are required to wear business formal suits, ties and dress shoes at all times. Failure to comply with this dress code will result in disciplinary action.”
This dress code policy is inappropriate because it requires employees to wear attire that may be uncomfortable or even dangerous, such as high heels. Additionally, it imposes gender-specific clothing requirements that can be discriminatory and out of touch with modern workplace norms. Finally, the threat of disciplinary action for non-compliance creates a hostile work environment and does not foster a positive work culture.
If you have any questions or concerns regarding your dress code policy, then we are here to help. Call us on 0845 2626 260 for a free consultation.