In a casual environment, it’s important to let staff know what will or won’t be accepted in regards to work attire. If the company has a more formal business dress expectation, it is even more essential to explain the why the policy is in place.
Just about any rule is acceptable, as long as it doesn't infringe on laws against discrimination or harassment, in which claims do occasionally arise from. Discrimination claims can be related to sex or gender, religion, or race, and although an employer will most likely have a dress code policy addressing all of those elements, it’s important to get some HR and legal advice just to be confident that all bases are covered.
In this post, I have included some information on workplace dress codes and how to avoid complications when creating and implementing policies.
If employees are asked to dress in revealing or provocative clothing, a company may be accused of sexualising their employees or even encouraging others, for example customers or other employees to harass them. Courts may differ on what exactly constitutes as sexual harassment in regards to clothing, however companies who risk asking female staff to wear short skirts or male employees to wear tight t-shirts or go topless are walking a thin line.
From another point of view, it’s also important that the company isn’t liable for the actions or clothing of their staff in regards to harassment or discrimination. Clothing that has suggestive words or pictures that may be considered unpleasant to other staff members must be treated as unacceptable.
As a general principal, clothing and grooming standards set should be as applicable to both male and female employees as possible. This could simply be ensuring that male employees have to wear shirt and ties and female employees have to wear similar attire, such as a shirt and tailored suit. However, this can also become more complicated, if an employer decides that whilst female staff members can wear their hair long, males are required to wear theirs short.
Generally speaking, an employer may face a discrimination case if the dress code isn’t established on social standards, differs greatly between men and women, or imposes a greater burden on one sex in particular.
It’s imperative for businesses to remember that employees from ethnic minorities need to be able to conform to company standards, whilst also respecting their religious beliefs and obligations, for example, some Muslims must wear beards and particular garments. If a company dress code forces employees to violate religious beliefs, they may be leaving itself open to claims of religious discrimination.
However, this does not mean that a business has to abandon all of its dress and grooming rules. If there is a valid reason for having a policy in place, then an employer does not have to accommodate the employee. For example, certain religious garments may pose a legitimate safety threat when operating machinery and certain hairstyles may be unhealthy in a food service context if employees refuse to wear hair nets or beard nets.
Employees with disabilities often need to comply with the same dress requirements as other employees, such as wearing formal attire alongside other employees. There may be times, however, that an employee’s disability prevents them from being able to fulfil dress code requirements, and therefore if an employer is asked to modify the policy due to a disability, they must accommodate the request if possible.
Tattoos and Body Piercings
An increasingly common issue that many employers are facing is whether to allow tattoos and body piercings in the workplace. Legally, employees don’t have a say in whether they can show body art in the workplace or not due to the fact that it’s not considered a religious or racial expression.
Legally, employers can ask employees to cover tattoos or remove piercings; however a practical approach is advisable when considering company policies to place grooming criteria accordingly.
When creating any dress code policy, employers should be aware of the particular requirements of the job and the business as well as safety and health considerations.
So what should your dress code policy include?
- Guidelines on what is and what is not considered appropriate
- Consider including expectations related to employee grooming such as personal appearance and hygiene including the wearing/showing of tattoos, jewellery, hairstyles and facial hair
- Address footwear requirements and guidelines both for males and females
- Be department specific. Warehouse employees shouldn't be required to wear a suit and tie, and your sales department, particularly if they’re meeting clients face-to-face, should be dressed smartly
- Have a strategy in place for handling dress code violation and ensure breaches are included within your disciplinary policy guidelines
At the end of the day, common sense and respect for employees are the strongest guidelines when creating a dress code. Employers need to endeavour to treat employees equally, and respect any requirements from employees to alter dress codes according to their needs. It’s vital that all employers address any issues that arise quickly and privately. If an employee wears something inappropriate, or violates the policy in any way, it is important that they are told what the issue is and explained how they are infringing on the dress code. Although it may seem awkward, brand and image are always on the line.
The contents of this article are necessarily expressed in broad terms and limited to general information rather than detailed analyses or legal advice. Specialist professional advice should always be obtained to address legal and other issues arising in specific contexts.