Implementing a dress code in your business

Jun 1, 2015 | Business Principles

Are you thinking of implementing or changing the dress code in your business? Perhaps standards have been slipping recently and relying on employees’ common sense as to what is appropriate to wear is no longer sufficient. This can frequently happen in a small business which is growing and taking on new staff.

It may be that you are moving offices into a new environment where a higher standard of dress is appropriate, or perhaps have new clients or changes to your business which mean a dress code is now needed. A dress code will ensure that workers are clear what standards are appropriate and expected, and will protect the image of your business.

So if you do want to implement a dress code what steps should you take?

Firstly decide what standards you want, and how rigid or prescriptive you want to be. Consider the culture (or desired culture) of your organisation, the working environment, the kind of tasks and responsibilities your employees have and any external parties with whom they have regular contact.

Most commonly, implementing a dress code involves tightening up on, or clarifying, dress standards already in place, rather than making a dramatic change. Gaining cooperation and compliance from staff will clearly be less challenging if the code reflects and clarifies current arrangements rather than trying to implement significant change. Consider carefully whether any very specific requirements you are thinking about are actually necessary in your business before attempting to put these restrictions in place.

You should consider whether you need to/are able to adapt any appearance regulations to accommodate staff whose religious practices or requirements may impede their ability to comply. You should also ensure you consider whether any rule you are considering implementing may be discriminatory.

A common question is whether it is acceptable to insist that female employees wear a skirt. Case law indicates that as long as you apply a comparable level of required smartness across both sexes, enforcing different requirements on men and women would not be discriminatory. However if the rigidity of the code is not equal you may be vulnerable, and as modern dress standards and conventions develop, the likelihood of a requirement to wear a skirt being acceptable diminishes. Other similar considerations which may be discriminatory include wishing to enforce standard of short hair or no earrings on male members of staff.

As a rule of thumb, consider what overall standard or look you are aiming to achieve, and when considering a specific rule or requirement, think about whether it is actually objectively necessary in order to achieve your aim, or whether you are being influenced by perhaps your own preferences or conventions.

When implementing your dress code, consulting employees as far as possible and seeking their views will assist in effective implementation, and will also help you identify any problems and solutions early on.

Once implemented, you need to enforce your dress code. If workers do not comply, ensure you find out whether there are any reasons for non-compliance before considering disciplinary sanctions, and give staff an opportunity to improve, just as you would with a performance or attendance issue.

If you are considering implementing a dress code and need some assistance, please do get in touch