Editor's message: Having a workplace dress code can help your employees understand the standards required when it comes to their appearance and can also help to protect your organisation’s public image.
Dress codes will vary from organisation to organisation, depending on what the organisation does and what it wants to achieve. You may have a formal dress code if you want to project a professional image to the public. Alternatively, you may require your employees to wear a uniform or protective clothing and equipment for health and safety reasons.
One of the challenges for organisations is making sure that dress codes are not discriminatory. Issues can arise if you do not apply the same standards of smartness or conventionality to men and women. However, bear in mind that conventions change. Having a rule that requires women to wear high heels and skirts at work is unlikely to be acceptable these days. You may also need to adapt your rules on dress and appearance to accommodate employees whose cultural or religious needs make it difficult for them to comply with the rules. Keeping a dress code as non-specific as possible may help avoid many of these pitfalls.
Ensuring that staff arrive on time and behave appropriately in their day-to-day relationships with colleagues and at corporate events and parties can be difficult for line managers without guidance and support. By putting in place policies setting out what is expected of employees, organisations can help their employees to understand how they should conduct themselves and make it easier for line managers to effectively manage any issues that crop up.
Sarah Anderson, employment law editor
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Updated to include information on the ECJ judgments in Achbita v G4S Secure Solutions NV and Bougnaoui v Micropole Univers, on employers preventing female staff from wearing Islamic headscarfs while working with clients.
The European Court of Justice has held that a direct religious discrimination claim in which an employee who wears an Islamic headscarf is dismissed to appease a customer cannot be defended on the basis of a "genuine and determining occupational requirement".
The European Court of Justice has held that a ban on religious dress that prevents a Muslim woman from wearing an Islamic headscarf when in contact with clients cannot be directly discriminatory, but is potentially indirectly discriminatory.
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HR and legal information and guidance relating to employee appearance and behaviour.