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What employers need to know about enforcing a dress code at work

Written by Simon Morgan, HR Dept South East London and North Kent.

Recent high profile legal cases about dress codes at work have left some employers unsure about what they can and can’t ask their employees to wear in the workplace. In this month’s blog, we give you the information you need to help you navigate this potential landmine.

  1. What are the benefits of a dress code? 

There are many legitimate reasons why you might want to consider imposing a dress code on your employees, ranging from health and safety (eg requiring hair to be tied back or covered in a kitchen) to helping you to communicate your corporate image. 

  1. Am I allowed to impose a dress code?

You are allowed to enforce a dress code in the workplace to ensure that employees are dressed appropriately so long as it doesn’t unlawfully discriminate against anyone. This means that it must not unfairly affect an employee unless you can show that the requirement is a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim.

  1. What do I need to consider when developing a dress code? 

Though corporate image may be important to you when devising your dress code, the health, safety and comfort of your staff is paramount. You must also take into consideration any potential religious and ethnic sensitivities.

  1. Can I have different dress code requirements for men and women?

You can have different requirements for men and women, providing that those differences are not to the detriment of one gender. It is not discriminatory, for example, to require men to wear a tie providing that women are required to meet a comparable standard of smartness.

  1. Must I have different dress code requirements for different religions?

The requirements of your dress code must relate to the job and be reasonable in nature. If you ban an item of religious dress, you must be able to justify your reasoning by demonstrating that the restriction is connected to a real business or safety requirement.

  1. How should I communicate my dress code policy?

Dress codes should be written down in a policy and communicated to all staff so that they understand what standards are expected of them. As with all employment policies, you should review your dress code regularly, including revisiting whether its objectives are still relevant. Include within your policy the circumstances in which adjustments can be made, for example, for disabled employees.

Generally, the more flexibility that you can allow into your dress code while still achieving your objectives, the less likely it is that any problems with it will arise.

  1. What are the penalties for employers whose dress code falls foul of the law?

Employees who feel that the dress code unfairly discriminates against them may decide to bring a claim against you. Where that employee succeeds at a Tribunal, financial compensation may be awarded largely on the basis of injury to feelings; if the employee has been dismissed or resigned and succeeds in a claim for constructive unfair dismissal, any award could include an element for loss of earnings too.

For more information, see ACAS Guidance on Dress Codes or contact Simon Morgan at The HR Department on [email protected].