Avoiding a dressing down – the importance of a carefully drafted dress code

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Posted in:HR and Employment|August 13, 2013 | Join the mailing list

In a recent article in the British Medical Journal, a hospital consultant complained of many junior doctors abandoning formal standards of dress and opting to wear casual clothes, such as t-shirts, for work instead. The consultant, Stephanie
Dancer, wrote that" "doctors are members of a distinguished profession and should dress accordingly".

These days, many employers allow their staff to wear more casual clothes for work than would have been the case several years ago, but often employers still expect certain standards of dress to be kept to by their staff while at work. As
with so many other areas of employment law, having a properly drafted written policy on dress codes is highly advisable for employers and it’s also important to make sure that that policy is communicated to the workforce and that it’s adhered to. Disciplining
an employee for failing to keep to a dress code will be far more difficult and far riskier if you can’t point to a formal dress code policy which you have in place and which the employee was informed about and told that they must abide by.  

It’s also crucial that you make sure that the dress code policy complies with your obligations as an employer in respect of avoiding unlawful discrimination.

It won’t necessarily be unlawful sex discrimination to have a policy which provides for men and women dressing differently (for example, men having to wear trousers while women can wear skirts), provided that each gender is required to meet
a similar standard of conventional formal clothing. If, for example, you expect your male employees to dress more formally than their female colleagues are required to, that will amount to unlawful sex discrimination and could lead to the male employees making
an employment tribunal claim.  

It’s also very important to be aware of your obligations in respect of avoiding religious discrimination. A dress code which makes it difficult for employees who have a certain religion to wear clothing or jewellery linked to that religion
may well amount to unlawful discrimination, unless the employer can show that that dress code is reasonable and proportionate in all the circumstances.  Following the European Court of Human Rights’ ruling that Nadia Eweida’s human rights were breached when
her employer, British Airways, prohibited her from wearing a visible crucifix at work, the Equality and Human Rights Commission published a useful guidance note for employers in respect of religion and belief in the workplace. Any employer looking at drawing
up a dress code for their staff (or reviewing a code that they already have in place) should certainly make sure that they read that guidance.

Failing to have in place a carefully drawn up code on standards of dress at work can be a recipe for trouble for employers and it’s far better to spend time now making sure that you have such a policy in place, rather than having to spend
more time (and money) dealing with an employment tribunal hearing. That’s one formal occasion you will want to avoid having to dress up for.         

For more information about any of the above or for practical commercial advice on this or any other aspect of employment law, please contact Nigel Crebbin of the Berg Employment Team on 0161 833 9211 or email him at

Follow us at Twitter: #BergHR.

The information and opinions contained in this article are not intended to be comprehensive, nor to provide legal advice. No responsibility for its accuracy or correctness is assumed by Berg or any of its partners or employees. Professional
legal advice should be obtained before taking, or refraining from taking, any action as a result of this article.

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