Dress Code at Work (Do Employers Have a Say? )


Having a dress code at work does not apply to every workplace however in some industries you have to dress a certain way. Whether it is due to health and safety regulations or to maintain a corporate image, as an employer you have the right to enforce a dress code at work as long as it applies to all your employees equally, is not discriminatory in any way and is in accordance with the law.

If your company has a dress code at work it needs to be accommodating to all employees and importantly make sure that it does not hinder employees from doing their job safety.

UK Employment Law is very clear on what employers can and cannot expect when it comes to a dress code at work such as:

  • Employers must avoid unlawful discrimination in dress code policies
  • Employers may have health and safety reasons for having certain standards
  • Employers must ensure that dress codes apply to both men and women in an equal manner

The Equality Act 2010 protects people from being discriminated against any of the following protected characteristics:

  • Age
  • Gender
  • Sexual orientation
  • Being transsexual or going through the process
  • Being in a marriage or civil partnership
  • Taking maternity leave or getting pregnant
  • Any disability
  • Racial characteristics such as skin colour, nationality, ethnicity or place of birth
  • Religious or Atheist beliefs

It is important that as an employer you understand where the law stands when it comes to dress code at work. You need to have a dress code that does not treat anybody differently due to any of the protected characteristics.

An example of discriminating employees because of their gender would be having an requirement that women must wear heels and men smart shoes or that men must wear a shirt and tie and women dress in a smart clothes. Understandably men and women will differ in what they wear however there needs to be an equivalent level of smartness.

As an employer it can be tricky to implement and maintain a dress code at work. Looking at high-profile legal cases that have hit the media in recent years it is clear that serious issues can arise when it comes to dress code at work.

In 2016 a particular case involving dress code at work made headlines. Nicola Thorp was sent home from work without pay on her first day as a receptionist because she refused to wear high heels. Nicola launched a petition calling for the law to be changed so that companies could not force women to wear high heels at work. The petition received 152,420 signatures.

Another case was of Nadia Eweida who was suspended from work as a flight attendant because she was wearing a crucifix around her neck. She eventually won.

Waitress Erin Sandilands was told by her boss to wear a skirt and make-up even thought she was already complying with the dress code. When she refused she was told they would not be offering her any more shifts. She was given a £3,500 payout at an Employment Tribunal for injury to feelings and loss of wages.

How to write a dress code policy?

When deciding dress code at work you need to outline clearly it within your company policy. This makes sure that the dress code is communicated to all employees efficiently and effectively. It is important you consider the following points when writing a dress code policy:

  • What type of dress code best reflects the company culture? Is it smart/casual or strictly smart?
  • What is the nature of the work employees will carry out and does the dress code depend on it?
  • Do you need to factor in health and safety standards?
  • Will employees be customer facing?
  • Will clients see employees regularly?
  • Provide further detail in respect of standards for hair, jewellery, piercings and tattoos.
  • Identify any exceptions to the dress code. For example, dress-down Fridays. You will also need to address any inappropriate clothing for such days for example:
  • T-shirts with slogans or images
  • Football tops
  • Caps
  • Open toed shoes/flip flops
  • Revealing clothes such as, shorts, crop tops or mini-skirts

Address all of these points within the policy so that employees can see how the dress code has been established. This will help them to understand the significance of having a dress code at work.

The policy should also set out the consequences of non-compliance of the dress code at work. This way employees are aware that if they choose to ignore the dress code there will be reprimands.

Whenever you have a new starter they should receive the dress code policy as part of their induction. Some employers may choose to send the policy before the employee signs their contract so that they are aware of and understand the requirements.

It is important that you review and update your dress code policy annually to keep in line with any law changes. You should also include it in your employee handbook.

By creating a dress code policy you will make it easier to address employees who are not following the policy. It also helps managers maintain a consistent approach to the issue, which will make sure that everyone is treated the same and reduce any negative repercussions or issues.

How to handles dress codes issues?

If an employee is dressed inappropriately then you should speak to them privately. Give the employee a chance to explain as to why they have not adhered to the dress code. If it is viable to send the employee home to get changed and come back then maybe you could ask the employee to do so.

However, if due to logistical and timeframe reasons it is not viable then it is up to the management of the employee if they should go home for the day or if they could stay in work with the understanding they will comply with the dress code when they are next in work.

If you are having issues with employees who keep disregarding the dress code at work even though you have addressed the problem several times then you will need to consider disciplinary action and in some cases it may lead to dismissal.

If you are ever unsure about where you stand legally with dress code at work then make sure you seek legal advice. It is best to do this sooner rather than later as you do not want to put yourself in a vulnerable position where you are breaking the law or causing employees to feel discriminated against on religious or gender grounds.

When you come to your annual reviews and you are looking to update your dress code policy it is also a good idea to have a legal professional look over it.


Dress Code at Work (Do Employers Have a Say? ) 1

Gill Laing is a qualified Legal Researcher & Analyst with niche specialisms in Law, Tax, Human Resources, Immigration & Employment Law.

Gill is a Multiple Business Owner and the Managing Director of Prof Services - a Marketing Agency for the Professional Services Sector.

lawble newsletter sign up

Subscribe to our newsletter

Filled with practical insights, news and trends, you can stay informed and be inspired to take your business forward with energy and confidence.