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When does a dress code become unfair, or even unlawful? A recent news story from North Wales got us thinking.

The story, covering a petition from Denbighshire taxi drivers looking to stop a ban on shorts, highlights the issue of what a reasonable approach to dress code at work is. Does this ban breach their human rights, as the taxi driver’s protest?

That’s not really for us to decide, but dress code at work is something that affects many businesses throughout the UK and beyond in their day to day running. Even international brands such as Abercrombie & Fitch, known for their selective nature when it comes to choosing staff, have recently had to back down. Firstly for their interview process, and then for their staff selection process – controlling their staff’s appearance just isn’t relevant anymore.

How to manage dress code policy at work

So, when it comes to dress code, what can you reasonably expect to control as an employer? This will all depend on the environment in which your employees will work – rules on hair being tied up for food hygiene reasons for example are perfectly justified, but if you just have a personal preference for people to tie their hair up without any other justification this could be a step too far. The key is that a dress code needs to be justifiable and fair.

At all times, as with any other area of employment, when thinking about dress codes you need to address the requirements of those of different religions or beliefs. If your dress code is not for reasons of health and safety, you’ll need to take this into account when implementing any policy in order to avoid discrimination.

Also, you will need to apply these dress codes to both men and women equally, although they may have different requirements. For example, you may expect male employees to wear ‘a shirt and tie’, and women to wear ‘smart business attire’, these are both likely to represent a common standard are therefore won’t be discriminatory.

However, this may be where the taxi drivers mentioned at the beginning have an issue – how does the local authority adjust for the opposite sex? If they are allowed to wear skirts below the knee, should taxi drivers be allowed to wear shorts below the knee? If following the rules to the letter, this may be the case.

Finally, reasonable adjustments must be made for disabled people (and let’s not forget this could sometimes mean obese people) – as in some cases the dress code you have in place may aggravate a condition or be difficult for them to meet. .

Staff uniform

In considering a dress code, you may choose to explore the option of a staff uniform, which can help staff cohesion. If you remove subtle barriers like managers wearing suits, this can also help. If you are thinking about supplying a uniform you’ll need to think about how many items each staff member has and when they’ll be replaced. As obvious as it may seem, you’ll also need to think about giving guidance on how it should be worn (clean and ironed), and whether or not it is mandatory.

In any case, if you do implement a dress code for your team, have a think about how you will approach it with them. It may be worth consulting with your employees to explain the reasoning behind the dress code, and confirm that it is acceptable to everyone. Just having a bug-bear against certain dress styles is not enough to implement a dress code!

Whatever you choose to do, you will need to make the requirements clear in your employment policies. Stating exactly how you expect employees to dress and why, and then communicating this change or update with your employees properly. Whether this is a meeting of staff, or a formal note to remind them of the change (or both!), you should take the time to do this in case you need to refer back to any specific point at a later date.

Dress code is only as important an issue as you make it. So as long as you’re fair when you enforce a uniform or dress code, and make sure there’s a business or safety reason for doing so, you shouldn’t have any major issues.

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