Depicting what employees can or cannot wear has made media headlines in the recent past, and brought the concept of discrimination over work attire to the forefront.
Employers have a right to depict what they would require the workforce to wear, but where is the point that an employer can press the dress code issue? And what rights does the employee have?
When looking at health and safety, the company has a legal obligation to ensure that all workers are equipped for their role, but what about office attire?
Shifting societal norms are making things harder for employers, as things that were once as seen as a working dress no-no, have now become commonplace. Strict adherence to these outdated rules and continuing to typecast can leave an organisation with a much smaller talent pool to select from.
Research conducted by Kings College, London, conducted in 2016 showed that dress codes or guides were much more common in larger organisations and those that are public facing. Many of the employees in the sample felt that if they disagreed with the appearance norms for a business, then there is a high chance they would look elsewhere.
To secure the best candidates for a role, it is beneficial for a business to ensure that they have a modern, reasonable dress code that is shared with all employees. This way all employees are aware of what the organisation is expecting of them. If changing the workplace dress code, legally all employees must be made aware of the change, and be given time to accommodate it.
Key points that must be included in dress codes are:
- Employers must avoid unlawful discrimination in any dress code policy
- Employers may have health and safety reasons for having certain standards
- Dress codes must apply to both men and women equally, although they may have different requirements
- Reasonable adjustments must be made for disabled people when dress codes are in place
Legally once this policy has been created, shared, and the business has allowed a full seven-day week to pass, including the weekend, companies can then move through disciplinary procedures against employees that refuse to adhere to it.
Before it gets to this point, it is advisable to remind employees of the dress code, as well as informing any new starters of the policy, as coaching and leading is always preferable to bringing down the hammer. Trust between HR and employees can ensure that a sticky situation is dealt with in a manner that doesn’t engender ill feeling.
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