A case earlier this year involving a male police trainee, highlights the issues we have to consider when dealing with dress codes. You have the right to impose a policy on staff dress, appearance and uniforms. What is appropriate appearance is up to you and should be based on needs of the business and on what is acceptable in law. Health and safety and unlawful discrimination should be considered.
Issues which arise with appearance in mind, tend to relate to sex discrimination, as in the case of the police trainee. The trainee was male and he was told to cut his shoulder length hair to comply with the police dress code or face disciplinary action. The dress code, to no one’s surprise, allowed females to have long hair. The trainee made a claim to the employment tribunal. The Employment Appeals Tribunal (EAT) found that this was not sex discrimination.
It would appear that the police policy was not fair as it treated males and females differently. Females are allowed long hair, males are not. However this case highlights that the policies do not necessarily have to be the same for men and women. Policies can be different as long as if, taken as a whole, and in context, neither sex is treated less favourably. The Tribunal considered the policy was fair to both sexes, based on social conventions and the needs of the profession.
You should have a clear dress code which you communicate to staff preferably in writing. Give examples of what is acceptable and not acceptable, white shirts might be okay, whilst visible pants may not. Different roles can have differing dress codes. Kitchen staff working with food must wear appropriate dress to ensure health and safety, whereas waiters and waitresses, who serve customers and represent the public image of the business, might be expected to wear more formal smart clothing. Your policy does not necessarily have to be the same for men and women (although you may make it easier for yourself if it does) but it must impose the same comparable restrictions on what they can wear.
Include in the dress code the action that you may take for breach of the code. This may include initially asking them to change or if necessary sending them home to get appropriately dressed.
If in reality this informal approach does not work then follow your policy. Make it clear to your member of staff that they are in breach of the policy and instigate the disciplinary process.
What society defines as ‘acceptable’ changes, so keep the policy under review. Requiring men to wear ties but not women, is likely to be discrimination, but would not have been in the past. Not allowing women to wear trousers could also amount to discrimination.
If the sun is shining and you allow women to wear strappy vests or open toe footwear than you should consider comparable rules for the men. Short sleeve shirts, smart plain T shirts and sandals.
Although hopefully informative this article does not constitute legal advice. It is advisable to always check with someone legally trained before taking any action. Nick Arron, solicitor at Poppleston Allen.
Nick joined Poppleston Allen in 1998 and, after a spell in Australia as a paralegal returned in 2003, eventually becoming a fully qualified solicitor. Nick looks after Employment Law for the firm and works in Liquor and Entertainment Licensing so is very familiar with the pub trade and the challenges licensees face on a daily basis. www.popall.co.uk