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Best Dressed: How Much Control Does a Business Have Over Its Employees’ Appearance?

Sep 24, 2019
by Kimberley Wallace, Senior HR Consultant
0333 400 7920 | 07584 575212 | kim@employassisthr.co.uk

It hasn’t been long since the children went back to school, hopefully looking smart in their cleaned, pressed uniforms; but can you say your employees are looking as well-groomed? If not, what can you do about this? 

Dress codes and uniform policies exist to ensure that a business’ employees are suitably dressed for their jobs; from business attire for professionals through to personal protection equipment (PPE) for health and safety reasons for trade persons. 

However, such policies are becoming ever more scrutinised due to tribunals being highlighted in the media where employers are forcing female workers to wear heels and make up. Something that sounds shocking to most people in today’s modern workplace.

Ultimately, a company’s uniform policy should not discriminate against the characteristics protected by the Equality Act 2010 including age, disability, gender reassignment, religion and sex. 

If employers are requiring anything of female employees that they are not of male employees, then they are running the risk of breaching the Equality Act, as they are applying differing rules to men and women.

A business may have a legitimate reason and genuine occupational requirement for having a specific dress code. For instance to express a strong corporate image, or to requiring staff who serve food and drink to be clean and well-groomed. However, employers should avoid imposing their own personal views on what they believe looks good, particularly when only instructing one sex on what they can wear.

Dress codes must be applied to both men and women equally, although they may have varying requirements of what this consists of, e.g. women must have long hair tied back, men must be cleanly shaven. But this should not be more prescriptive for female employees.

It would be advisable for employers to ensure that any dress codes are relevant and necessary for business purposes, and applied consistently throughout the business. Also check that any existing dress code policies are non-discriminatory to other characteristics such as those who may wear religious clothing.