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Managing employee dress code and work outfits

Work outfit dress codes are just one integral part of your HR policies. It is easy for employees to become confused about dress code standards in your workplace if you do not lay out your expectations from day one. What is appropriate for your company will depend on the kind of business you own. It will also depend on how you wish your clients or customers to perceive your staff.

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Why is it helpful to have a dress code?

Some businesses require a dress code as part of health and safety regulations. Doctors, surgeons and other healthcare professionals usually have to wear specific clothing when dealing with patients and treating them. This is an instance where a dress code can help ensure the health and safety of your employees but also of the people around them. However, even in cases where a dress code is not required, a uniform or smart attire can still make an excellent impression on your customers or clients. However, it is also true that expectations around what employees may look like in the workplace and therefore how they may dress are changing. Both employees and customers alike are increasingly expecting a more relaxed dress code. One study showed that 61% of employees feel more productive at work when they can dress more casually. A more casual dress code can therefore boost morale.

What dress code is right for my employees?

Some items of clothing are considered more formal than others. Clothing that is considered more informal includes shorts, t-shirts, or shirts with brightly coloured patterns. Customers and clients can also perceive colours as formal or informal. Bright colours are usually considered more informal, whereas dark or muted shades are usually considered more formal. Workplaces in the UK are becoming more and more relaxed about their dress codes. More businesses are allowing their employees to come into work wearing jeans or trainers, even when working in an office environment. Some workplaces allow their employees to dye their hair or display their tattoos. This might be useful to companies looking to create a brand image that appeals to younger generations, in terms of new recruits, clients and customers. Some offices have a casual dress day on certain days of the week. This is often on Fridays, to reward employees for their efforts during the week. You might require employees who are working remotely to wear formal office attire during meetings with senior members of staff, or with clients. However, for the rest of the working day, you might allow them to choose which clothes they wear.

Business casual

Business casual allows your employees to dress in a more modern rather than traditional way. With this type of dress code, your employees will look smart and professional without having to wear a full suit. This is a more comfortable option than coming into work in a suit every day, and therefore many employees will prefer casual business clothing. It also allows them to bring more of their style into their workwear. This type of dress code also helps your employees to save money in the long term. This is because purchasing multiple suits may not be an affordable option to them.

When should my employees wear a suit or formalwear?

Requiring your employees to wear a suit is a more popular choice in corporate office environments, especially for employees who are lawyers, solicitors, bankers or consultants. Even so, you still may not require these types of employees to wear a suit every day. You might only require your employees to wear suits during meetings with clients or senior employees. Employees might need to wear suits during their orientation period. Formal clothing as an alternative to suits may include the following items of clothing:

  • suit trousers
  • smart skirt
  • black or brown formal shoes
  • blouse
  • shirt
  • tie.

Modern businesses in the UK do not require their female employees to wear smart skirts or heels. Requiring that your female employees wear heels, makeup or skirts may go against the Equality Act 2010. During a discrimination case, a court of law could consider this a form of discrimination based on sex or gender. Instead, you can encourage your employees to choose items of clothing that they feel comfortable wearing, as long as they remain presentable and appropriately dressed for the workplace. You may offer the option of choosing between a formal skirt or trousers based on an employee’s personal preferences.

Branded clothing

You might choose for your staff to wear a branded uniform or branded accessories. This can help define the image of your brand. It can also help improve its reputation with customers. It may also help your employees to feel part of their team, and improve their confidence especially if it is comfortable, modern and a good fit. When your employees feel part of the bigger picture of your business, they are less likely to leave, which in turn reduces staff turnover. Having your staff wear a company uniform also means they are easier to locate in a busy store by customers.

Protective clothing

To protect your employees and ensure they are following health and safety regulations at work, your dress code might include protective clothing such as hi-vis jackets, protective gloves or visors. It is important to consider how visible your employees are if they are working at night. Employees will need appropriate clothing or accessories if handling hazardous substances, operating heavy machinery or working at heights.

How to establish a dress code in your HR policy

Once you have decided what clothing is appropriate for your employees, you can now outline a dress code in your company policy. This should ideally be communicated via your HR department. You might also choose to talk about dress code with employees during their orientation, or in their interview.

Make sure that your dress code is presented in a place that is easy for employees to find. This could be in a code of conduct or company policy manual. If you are planning to instigate any changes to your employee dress code, state this information in a place that is also easy to find. You may choose to discuss this in an email, or during a meeting with your employees. Employees can become confused about your dress code if it is not clearly outlined as part of your HR policies. A survey suggests that a quarter of employees find it difficult to find suitable office attire. The same survey also suggested that a fifth of women and nearly a quarter of men have been called out for coming into work wearing clothing that doesn’t comply with the dress code. Terms like “business casual” can be vague. Therefore, it is recommended that if you plan to have a business casual dress code, you need to make sure that your employees understand what this means for your company.

Generations and how to look at the workplace

Different age groups will have a different idea of what is expected of their dress in the workplace. Younger generations may be used to working remotely, or in an office where the dress code is very relaxed. According to one study, 57% of Millennials and 58% of Generation Z employees thought that if a business had a casual dress code, they would enjoy working there more. Therefore, if you are looking to recruit younger generations to your team, you might consider including a casual dress code in your perks package. However, if your office requires a very formal dress code, you should make sure that younger, less experienced employees understand what is considered formal according to company policy.

On the other hand, older employees may be less comfortable or familiar with a casual dress code. They might interpret business casual to mean smart, traditional clothing with some bright elements and interesting design features.

The UK law surrounding employee dress

There are certain circumstances where employees can claim that enforcing a particular dress code on them is a form of discrimination according to the Equality Act 2010. Some types of clothing can be used in discrimination claims in a court of law, but the court itself usually decides on a case-by-case basis whether the banning or enforcement of certain items of clothing is a form of discrimination. Discrimination claims usually involve protected characteristics including:

  • religion or belief
  • sex
  • age
  • disability
  • gender
  • pregnancy or maternity.

An employee can object to wearing a uniform or item of clothing if it goes against their religious beliefs. This is because religious belief is a protected characteristic according to the Equality Act 2010.

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