Q&A: Staff dress codes

The idea of having a staff dress code might seem old-fashioned, but it’s important to meet your customers’ expectations when they meet you – and this means looking the part. However, this can be a highly emotive issue when employees wish to express their religious or cultural identity through wearing specific items of clothing or jewellery

"Employees have the right not to be discriminated against so it is important to tread carefully and ensure that any dress code applies equally to all employees," says David Price, head of employee relations at HR consultancy Peninsula. Here he answers some key questions about staff dress codes.

Why should I introduce a staff dress code?

The way your employees dress says a lot about your business, so consider what image you’re projecting. A dress code promotes a professional image and can help put staff in the right mindset for work.

How should my employees dress?

Consider what the ‘norm’ is for your industry. For example, in the legal sector staff are expected to wear suits, while in creative sectors employees often dress much more casually. If your business is customer-facing, such as a shop, you may want to introduce a uniform, which enables customers to identify staff more easily.

How flexible should my dress code be?

Well you could have a summer dress-down period, for example, to ensure staff are comfortable in warmer weather. If you do, though, spell out exactly what is and isn’t allowed, such as t-shirts and flip flops, because some staff will take it as an opportunity to dress for the beach, which could be inappropriate for meetings or if clients drop in.

Should I be influenced by what clients wear?

First impressions last, so you should adapt to every situation. For client meetings, try to anticipate how clients will dress by having a good knowledge of them or your sector, if you haven't met previously. What’s acceptable in one situation could give the wrong impression elsewhere.

How should I introduce new dress rules?

If you don’t explain why you are introducing a dress code, it could cause bad feeling. Ideally, seek agreement rather than forced change. You’ll get more support from employees if they understand your reasons.

How do I make sure staff stick to it?

Include it in staff contracts or handbooks and explain what will happen if employees don’t comply, which could include informal disciplinary action. If you have a uniform, specify when staff should and shouldn’t wear it. If staff are going out getting drunk wearing a branded work t-shirt, for example, it won’t reflect well on your business.

Are there any legal considerations?

It’s a legal requirement for staff to wear certain clothing in some sectors. For example, construction workers must wear protective boots. You’ll must also be aware of discrimination laws. For example, if you ask employees not to cover their faces and your workforce includes Muslim women, you could face indirect discrimination claims unless you can justify it.

Read 'What should an employer do if an employee wishes to wear a veil or other religious clothing?' from the Law Donut, where you can find a wide range of employment law resources.