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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Personal hygiene at work– The most difficult conversation?

Personal hygiene can be one of the most uncomfortable conversations in a workplace. As an employer, it is difficult for you to handle the issue without causing some offence or awkwardness.

However, depending on the employee’s role, bad hygiene can have a negative impact on other workers or clients, not to mention the health and safety implications if you are in the food and drink industry.

You should not avoid the issue though and instead raise it with the employee in a confidential and tactful manner that benefits all parties.  Therefore, no “hints” or oblique remarks.

Dealing with the issue

Arrange a meeting either through their line manager or directly. This must be a private location without other employees present. The employee shouldn’t be told this information by a colleague or anonymously, it could create an uncomfortable atmosphere and the employee may then feel victimised by their colleague(s).

Close-up of washing hands in a sink

Approach with tact and be prepared to be direct but polite

While it is important to be careful with accusations of poor hygiene, the employee may not believe a problem exists and will require direct information. Remember the human brain can “tune out” sights, sounds and smells.

For example, informing the employee that they have ‘stained or damaged’ clothing when attending work and citing your hygiene/grooming policy.

Alternatively, if there have been complaints made about the employee, make them aware without disclosing who had raised them. This will give an understanding of how cleanliness can affect the business without allowing a hostile environment to form between colleagues.

Once the employee has had the opportunity to either explain their circumstances or take what you have said on board, confirm your expectations clearly.

What may first appear as bad hygiene can actually be symptoms of a serious medical condition. You should be conscious that the member of staff may well be suffering from an illness or take medication that causes profuse sweating or difficulty in their washing routine.

If it is established that the employee is suffering with a medical issue, then establish the ‘reasonable adjustments’ that may need to be made to best suit all members of staff. Seek information from the employee’s Doctor or Occupational Health where appropriate.

What if this does not resolve the situation?

As long as there are no discrimination issues, then ultimately, following the correct process and after seeking the relevant advice, you can discipline an employee for breaching expected/satisfactory hygiene and grooming company standards repeatedly.

Preventing the issue

Having a policy within your staff handbook is a good start in outlining the necessary minimum of cleanliness. By setting clear expectations about grooming you will decrease the likelihood that bad hygiene will be present in the workplace.

Consider including this by the dress code section of your documentation, possibly under a category marked as ‘Presentation’, specifying the company’s expectation of personal hygiene.


Have you considered training for yourself and your managers on difficult conversations and how to handle them?

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My Employee has Depression, What do I do?

No employee with mental health issues will experience the same symptoms or require the same treatment. Therefore, there is not a one size fits all approach to managing employees suffering from mental health issues. It is becoming more significant for employers to make practical changes in support of these employees as you would do with an employee with a broken leg or arm. This is not a topic that can be ignored as it is estimated 91 million working days are lost each year due to mental health problems.

Screen Shot 2019-04-23 at 14.38.47Research in this area shows that the wellness and recovery time of the individual will differ depending on how the Company responds, therefore if you take a pragmatic and supportive approach to making reasonable adjustments the employee is likely to return to work sooner than if you ignore the underlying issues.

You must remember as an Employer you have a legal obligation once aware of any health information to make reasonable adjustments to work when necessary. As well as making reasonable adjustments to the role itself to support the employee, there are further actions an employer can consider:

  • Train and Introduce Mental Health First Aiders
  • Introduce a Mental Health Policy
  • Introduce a Support System Internally or Externally (EAP Scheme)
  • Line Manager Training

As part of such training, it is important to ensure that managers treat mental health illness the same as any physical health illness. As such managers should continue to conduct;

  • Return to work interviews
  • Regular appraisals
  • Provide training and support

Also, as part of any line manager training you will need learn how to have a conversation with the employee, in a way that supports them. We have developed some top tips to help you.

Finally, if you need any further support regarding an employee who is off work due to mental health illness, please get in touch with our team of advisors who can support you through the maze of health considerations in a pragmatic, logical and legally compliant way.

Agility are available by phone on 01527 571617 or email on info@agilityrac.com

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Shared Parental Leave – Why don’t employees use it?

Shared Parental leave (SPL) has been available to couples since 5th April 2015. This allows parents to share 50 weeks of leave and 37 weeks of pay after they have a baby. The leave can be taken separately or at the same time.

But why have less than 5% of eligible couples on average have used it since it was introduced nearly 4 years ago?

The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) estimate that of 285,000 eligible couples, only 2% to 8% (i.e. 570 to 2,280) of them use the scheme. Law firm EMW said its own research pointed to figures of 1% to 3%.

Government has spent several million pounds promoting it, so why is take up so poor?

  • BEIS research says only 49% of people have heard of it
  • Only 8% of people claim to know a reasonable amount about the system; and
  • The rate of pay during Shared Parental leave paid period is £148.68 (2019 – 2020) and simply many parents cannot afford the financial hit.

It is an awkward truth, that many parents cannot afford to use SPL because Government has designed a flawed system which discourages all but a few couples from using it.

In countries where there is a more equitable system, take up is vastly more than it is in Britain, 91% of eligible couples in Iceland, 86% in Quebec and 63% in Portugal.

An exception to the rule is Aviva who introduced a scheme in November 2017 where parents employed by Aviva are eligible to the same amount of paid and unpaid time off, regardless of gender, sexual orientation or how they became a parent (birth, adoption or surrogacy). All employees are able to take up to 12 months of leave when a new child arrives, including 26 weeks at full basic pay.

  • Almost every new dad at the insurer has opted to take more than the statutory two weeks of paid paternity; and
  • Two thirds of eligible dads opt to take six months off work

What employee would opt for a fortnight of shared parental leave for which they are paid £297.36 (the statutory rate) when an employee working the average working week on the highest rate of NMW will get £607.54 in the same period (2019 – 2020 rates used). The gap widens further if we use the average weekly wage from the ONS, for which a fortnight’s pay will exceed a £1,000.00.

It was one of the Government’s key objectives to “encourage more fathers to play a greater caring role in the first year, via longer, more flexible shared leave,” when SPL was introduced. Most parents cannot afford to take SPL because of the hit financially.

Has this system failed the Government’s original intentions? Leave us a comment and let us know your thoughts.

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Flexible Working

The Labour Party recently announced that employees would have the right to request flexible working from day one of their employment under a Labour government, with a “presumption in favour of flexible working”.

Why are they suggesting this when there has been a right to request flexible working since 2003?

Labour highlighted a recent Office for National Statistics study which showed that “sandwich carers” – those looking after young children and elderly parents – feel shut out of the labour market because of a lack of flexibility.

Nearly half (46%) of women in such a situation said they either felt unable to work at all, or as much as they would like. One third of male (35%) carers felt the same. Meanwhile 28% of female sandwich carers are deemed ‘economically inactive’ and not classed as part of the UK workforce, compared with 10% for men.

Butler said: “Women do the vast majority of unpaid care, but this must not be a barrier to women in work. That’s why I’m announcing Labour’s plans to introduce rights to flexible working from day one of employment.

“This change to the law is essential to closing the gender pay gap and dismantling the structural barriers that hold women back from promotion and progression. It may also result in more men taking on caring responsibilities themselves, finally lightening the load that women bear.”

The current legal provision allows all employees to request to work flexibly BUT unlike the Labour proposal;

  • An employee must have at least 26 weeks continuous employment to make a request
  • An employee can only make one request in every 12 months (whether granted or not)
  • The employer has to consider the request but there is no presumption that it must be granted (there are 9 grounds on which it can be declined)

Questions that we have no information on yet;

  • Will the request have to be in writing?
  • Will it be still one request whether successful or not every 12 months; and
  • Will there any prioritisation of certain people’s requests if made at the same time. Currently, the employer can decide which request will be given priority.

If you require any guidance on your flexible working policies then please give us a call or email us at hrsupport@agilityrac.com

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Top Tips for Having a Difficult Conversation

Most people dread having a challenging conversation, but it is likely that at some point that you will have to have a conversation which you know will broach a difficult topic. A challenging conversation can be anything from discussing a delicate subject, delivering unpleasant news or a talk about something that hasn’t gone to plan, or which needs to change.

Talking face to face with an employee about issues or problems might be a daunting prospect but below are Agility R&C’s top tips for having a difficult.


  1. Be prepared – Have an outline of the key points that you intend to discuss. Although be careful to not to write yourself a script as this can stifle the conversation.
  2. Gather evidence and establish the facts – if your conversation is about the performance of the individual then you should have the employee’s performance targets to hand and how they have failed to meet them. You should also establish whether there is any mitigating circumstances, such as whether the employee has been off sick or if their targets had been altered. Check your internal policies and procedures as this may also give you some guidance on the action which may need to be taken.
  3. Choose a suitable time and place – To have an open and frank conversation, the conversation needs to be held in a private place. Remember to allow enough time so that the conversation is not rushed and factor in time for breaks if there is a lot to discuss.
  4. Always have a face-to-face conversation – emails can be misinterpreted and face to face is more effective as the employee can see that the matter is being taken seriously.
  5. Be direct – Don’t beat around the bush and state exactly what you want to talk about in your first few sentences and why the conversation has to happen. If the conversation loses its focus at any point, this should help you to get it back on track.
  6. Use non-defensive communication – Starting sentences with ‘you’ can sound like and attack and is more likely to make the person you are speaking to respond in a defensive way.


  1. Let your emotions get in the way – stay focused, objective and non-judgmental at all times. Being in control is not always about winners and losers, therefore you may need to reach a compromise or agree a way to move forward.
  2. Rush the conversation – Take your time and make sure you cover all the points you need to discuss and any other which arise in the meeting.
  3. End the meeting without agreeing a way forward – Like stories, meetings need to have a beginning, middle and end. Start by setting out the purpose of the meeting, discuss the points then finish by stating what is expected moving forward and a time line.

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