HR BLOG: Dress codes and discrimination

Dress codes can be subjective and your idea of dressing to impress may be different to someone else. In a diverse workforce made up of different cultures and backgrounds, it’s probable that you will come across varying opinions on what is and isn’t suitable for work.

To protect your business image and your employees, it is advised to implement a dress code that clearly outlines your criteria for acceptable business attire. Details such as “no trainers or caps” can be useful for clear communication.

But becoming too granular, such as implementing gender specific requirements (think ties for men, high heels for women) or requiring everyone to wear the same uniform with limited options, could leave you open to claims of discrimination from your employees.

The government’s recent release on dress code guidance for employers aims to clarify matters surrounding workplace dress codes, including how to avoid discrimination.

How can employers get the balance right when implementing a dress code for their business?

1. Be fair to your employees. However you decide to represent your company, it’s essential that your employees are able to complete their daily tasks and are not restricted to do so by a dress code.

If you have an established business but are yet to implement a dress code, consider holding a meeting at manager or director level to collect feedback from your existing team. You can make the final decision, but it does help to brainstorm and show you are open to input from your employees.

When it comes to detail, make sure that any standards imposed on genders are made equal or equivalent where possible. And for transgender employees? Allow them to follow your dress code guidance that matches their gender identity.

You will also want to consider other characteristics such as disability or religion when creating your dress code. A one-size-fits-all approach can create problems for your team.

2. Be clear in your communication. Having the terms of your dress code professionally drafted will help you to ensure that nothing gets lost in translation. Listing specific items of clothing that are not permitted may also prevent any confusion within your workforce. For example open-toed shoes, expletive slogans, midriff bearing or sheer clothing.

Keep in mind that it is best to avoid gender specific requirements such as certain hairstyles, or make-up, as this can land you in trouble.

It’s a good idea to let your employees know why certain decisions on workwear have been made. Whether it’s to do with brand image or to protect your employees for health and safety reasons.

3. Whatever the weather! Depending on your business location and set up, it could be a good idea to relax your dress code under extreme weather conditions. For example, allowing shorts, short sleeves or sandals during a heatwave. Getting this written up in advance can have you set for all seasons.

Alison Schreiber runs The HR Dept Durham and Darlington franchise, and works with a number of businesses across PBP. For more info, visit HR Dept Durham and Darlington or call Alison on 01325 526036 or 07535 853226.