Dress codes – Why do you have to have them?

Dress codes are often used in the workplace and there are many reasons why an employer may have one.

Often an employer will introduce a dress code for health and safety reasons, for example health care workers may not be allowed to wear jewellery for safety reasons when around patients. In the construction industry a dress code is highly important as it will typically require all workers to wear protective clothing such as steel toe boots, reflective vests and full length pants.

In the food industry a dress code may require hair nets and gloves be worn for health reasons.

When a customer walks into your business, the first thing they see is how your staff are dressed. If your staff are dressed casually or an untidy manner, it can form a negative impression and initial impressions last, rightly or wrongly.

If your workplace regularly interacts with customers, such as a restaurant, hotel or retail store, then having a dress code ensures when customers look at your employees collectively, they see uniformity and professionality.

Ensuring all your employees are dressed to a standard promotes the feeling of belonging to a team. Your staff also know when they are at work, they are embodying the business, so are more conscious of how they are behaving whilst in uniform.

Furthermore, while employees can grumble at having to wear a uniform or follow a dress code, they will soon realise the benefits to not having to decide whether or not they are dressed appropriately. A dress code sets out clear expectations of employees, including personal grooming. This eliminates the worry of whether a shirt is going to be deemed inappropriate, as all employees need to do is check the dress code for guidance.

However, people can get dress codes wrong. Remember the case of Nicola Thorp in 2016 who attended work on her first day in smart flat shoes. She was informed that she should be wearing shoes with a 2 to 4 inch heel. When she refused to do this and pointed out that men were not required to do this, she was sent home without pay. This issue went viral and the issue discussed in Parliament after a petition gathered more than 150,000 signatures and was investigated by a Commons Committee.

Therefore, as the ACAS guidance on the matter states “an employer’s dress code must not be discriminatory in respect of the protected characteristics in the Equality Act 2010 for age, disability, gender reassignment, religion or belief, sex, or sexual orientation.”

So, remember that a dress code can be a good idea from both the employers and employees’ point of view but there are pitfalls so always take advice when creating one.

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