Q&A: Staff dress codes

Q&A: Staff dress codes

If your business is customer-facing, or if clients regularly come to your offices, it's important to make the right impression - and that can include looking the part. However, telling what employees to wear can provoke strong reactions. David Price, head of employee relations at HR consultancy Peninsula, answers 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 particular industry. For example, in the legal sector staff are usually expected to wear suits, while in creative sectors employees often dress much more casually.

If your business is a customer-facing one, such as a shop, you may want to introduce a uniform, which enables shoppers to identify staff easily.

Should I be influenced by what clients wear?

First impressions last, so you should adapt to the situation. For client meetings, try to anticipate how clients will dress by looking at what's usual in their sector, if you haven't met previously.

What's acceptable in one situation could give the wrong impression elsewhere.

How should I introduce a new dress code or uniform?

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

How do I make sure staff stick to a dress code?

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.

What is the law on staff dress codes?

It's a legal requirement for staff to wear certain clothing in some sectors. For example, construction workers must wear protective boots.

Employees also have the right not to be discriminated against, so it is important to tread carefully and ensure that your dress code doesn’t put anyone at an unfair disadvantage.

For example, if you tell employees that they must have their heads and faces uncovered at work, and you can't objectively justify it, you could face discrimination claims from members of some religious groups.

You can find advice on avoiding sex discrimination in your dress code on the GOV.UK website.

How flexible should my dress code be?

You may want to make your dress code flexible if it's not always comfortable for employees. You could have a summer dress-down period, for example, to ensure staff are comfortable in warmer weather.

If you do, though, make sure you spell out exactly what is and isn't allowed, such as t-shirts and flip flops. Some staff may take it as an opportunity to dress for the beach, which could be inappropriate for meetings or if clients drop by.

What does the * mean?

If a link has a * this means it is an affiliate link. To find out more, see our FAQs.