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Dress codes at work: key things to consider

Employers are able to issue employees with reasonable workplace instructions across a wide variety of different areas of working life. Dress code is one of these. Employers can set rules regarding acceptable workplace dress. Sometimes what is acceptable will be linked to employer branding and image (think of uniforms used in restaurants and hotels), sometimes it will be dictated by health and safety requirements (think of work boots and high visibility clothing on building sites) and sometimes it will merely be linked to maintaining a certain level of professionalism and separating ‘leisure’ from ‘work’. 

Regardless of the impetus any form of dress code in the workplace, employers should make sure that the rules are reasonable, easy to understand and non-discriminatory. In particular, we suggest that employers consider the following:

  • Make sure that your dress code does not unreasonably impinge on an employee’s cultural, racial or religious clothing if at all possible. There are obviously circumstances (for example, where health and safety concerns are involved) where this will not be possible but, outside of this, any dress code should not include any discriminatory requirements unless you are satisfied that they can be justified. 
  • Gender-specific clothing rules should be avoided as these are likely to be found to be discriminatory on grounds of sex, sexual orientation and/or gender re-assignment.
  • If your business adopts a hybrid-working pattern then consider the relaxation of any dress code for days when the employee is not in the office.
  • Make sure that you set out any dress code rules in a clear, accessible policy or other document, draw employee attention to it and explain the action that will be taken against employees in the event of non-compliance. It is likely that wilful non-compliance would be dealt with as a disciplinary matter but employers need to be careful not to be too heavy-handed and to take the time to understand any reasons underlying the employee’s non-compliance.
  • Take account of the impact of any dress code on employee wellbeing. If employees do not feel comfortable at work then this could impact on productivity and wellbeing.