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Dress Codes in the workplace

Dress codes in the workplace have recently hit the headlines. In December 2015 Nicola Thorp was sent home from her role as a receptionist with large accountancy firm PWC because she refused to wear heels which would have damaged her feet. As a result of her online petition, dress codes became the subject of consideration by two Parliament Committees, the Petition Committee and the Committee for Women and Equalities.

This joint committee has just produced a report setting out its concerns relating to dress codes in the workplace. The report has called for more effective remedies for discriminatory dress codes, such as increased financial penalties for employers who breach the law.

The joint report also calls on the Government to introduce guidance and awareness campaigns to improve the understanding of worker’s rights in relation to discriminatory dress codes. The joint report specifically heard evidence relating to sexist practices, but such awareness should be raised in relation to all protected characteristics.

An employer may wish to implement a dress code for various reasons such as:

a) to ensure that employees are dressed smartly to convey a corporate image; or

b) to ensure that a uniform is worn; or

c) health and safety requirements.

An employer has a wide degree of discretion over the terms is stipulates in its dress code, but it must be mindful of one key element, namely that it ensures that equivalent standards are imposed on all employees and that there is a genuine business requirement behind them. This is key to minimising the risk of successful discrimination claims. Employers should also aim to make sure that the dress code is broadly acceptable to the majority of its employees. This helps with the maintenance of good employment relations.

To aid in maintaining good employment relations, employers who have dress codes, should review the content on a regular basis. This will allow them to address any recurring problems and adapt to changing fashions. If they are going to make substantial changes, they should ideally consult the workforce over those changes in particular to understand the impact of any one group of employees. Employers should also ensure any new code or amended code is clearly communicated to the workforce.

If you have any questions in relation to dress codes, then please do contact Whittock Consulting on 01225 585756 or sarah@whittockconsulting.co.uk