Tips for dealing with the company dress code

Here, we provide advice on what should business owners follow to ensure they stay within the law, stay fair and get the most out of their staff.

As an employer or business owner, knowing how to approach developing, implementing or altering a dress code can be tricky. Particularly if you’ve paid attention to the string of high-profile legal cases that have hit the media in recent years. And it’s certainly true that the law paints a complex picture on this issue, with both employers and employees left questioning what their rights really are.

So what advice should business owners follow to ensure they stay within the law, stay fair and get the most out of their staff?

1. Any dress code policy should be really clear. Don’t leave things open to interpretation or leave staff questioning what it is you mean. At the same time though, be concise. If you bombard your employees with a ton of information they’re going to struggle to take it all in and follow accordingly.

2. When developing your dress code, constantly consider what is ‘reasonable’. You’re perfectly entitled to demand a professional and presentable look from your staff – but does the nature of your business actually command what it is you’re asking for?

3. A primary legal requirement of your workplace dress code is that it keeps your employees safe. This not only means falling in line with all the health and safety legislation you’d expect, but also to protect your staff from exploitation or harassment; revealing uniforms could fall foul of this for example.

4. Where dress codes and the law tend to clash is in situations where the rules are deemed to be discriminatory, so you should constantly bear this in mind. Always question whether you are putting a certain group of employees at a disadvantage, particularly those of a certain gender, religion or with a disability – and steer well clear of this. Always consider your staff’s freedoms of thought, conscience, religion and expression.

5. There are some scenarios where policy that does appear to discriminate may be necessary. If the wearing of a garment or item prohibits an individual from doing their job safely or to standard, you’re entitled to restrict the wearing of it, no matter what its purpose or significance. In these situations, you must be absolutely certain this can be justified.

6. Once you’ve created your policy, ensure it is communicated to all of your employees. Make it available online and include it within starter parks to make sure staff have a constant point of reference.

7. Always apply your policy consistently. If you do eventually reprimand an employee for dress code violation, there must be equal consequences for all those who later do the same.

8. Assess every case of violation on an individual basis. People have all manner of reasons for dressing as they do, and it’s important you take their reasons into account before making any decision on how to respond.

9. Where there is a violation, and once you’ve assessed the circumstances, ensure your response is reasonable. It’s always best to give the member of staff an opportunity to respond and comply. Can compromise be found? Is any disciplinary action proportional and fair? Is it necessary at all at this stage?

10. If your confident you now have a dress code that can be fairly applied to all and is appropriate for the nature of the business, don’t be afraid to implement and observe it.

It can be difficult to know where the law stands on specific elements of dress code. From tattoos and piercings to headscarves or shorts, knowing what you can and can’t demand when it comes to particular features of dress is confusing. Citation has produced this handy guide to clear up where the law stands on some of the most common problems.

Further reading on dress code

Ben Lobel

Ben Lobel

Ben Lobel was the editor of from 2010 to 2018. He specialises in writing for start-up and scale-up companies in the areas of finance, marketing and HR.

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