Dress codes at work have been in the news quite a bit recently. See our other articles on the topic here, here and here. And also here. We’ve seen headlines such as Japan ban on glasses for women at work, Goldman Sachs relaxes dress code, and Japan’s labour minister says high heels at work are ‘necessary’.

Anothe recent report tells us that a Russian company gave bonuses to encourage its female employees to exchange their trousers for dresses and skirts at work – link.

This unsurprisingly attracted criticism and offence at the insult to female employees. The feeling is that the reward is not connected to the professional interests of the company.  Men might also complain that the ‘trouser bonus’ is unfair as it excludes them.

Avoiding this type of clanger may seem obvious to employers but the intricacies of having a workable and non-discriminatory dress code can still cause upset in UK workplaces.  Cases have been well-publicised about dress codes going too far.

Does your organisation have a dress code?  Here is a checklist of factors to consider.

  • Health and safety – is particular clothing linked directly to the need for keeping the employee safe?
  • Product safety and quality – is particular clothing linked directly to the need to keep the product safe (eg, food) or to protect the quality of the product?
  • Company image – is there a need to portray a particular image to the users of your product or services, such as a smart appearance for professional job roles?
  • Marketing – is there a need to promote a brand image?
  • Conformity – is a uniform part of the culture of the organisation to promote equality and practicality?

Dress codes at work are not unlawful but you should guard against imposing different standards on different genders which are not justifiable.  For example, employers can ask employees of both sexes to dress smartly but should avoid gender specific requirements such as high heels for women.  Don’t forget of course that employees with disabilities may not be able to comply with all requirements (we’ve heard of someone who couldn’t wear a tie due to neck surgery). Employees with specific religious beliefs may prefer to dress in accordance with their faith, which should be allowed unless there is a good reason not to.

Asking female staff to dress in a provocative manner is an obvious no-no in most industries but many employers permit dressing down in hot weather for example.

Dress codes for men and women do not have to be identical but consultation with staff and careful implementation is the key to success.  Bonuses are best left for achievements at work not how employees look!

Image used under CC courtesy of Veenya Venter