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Dress codes and appearance at work

Are ‘Dress Down Friday’s’ a thing of the past?

It was once said, regardless how popular you are in life, the weather will always determine how many people attend your funeral! The weather too plays a huge factor in what we decide to wear for work. You know the drill, you stare wilfully at your wardrobe each day hoping, firstly something appropriate is ironed and secondly for divine intervention. It’s a stressful question each morning: - What can I wear that will keep me cool without violating the office dress code?

As a subject area, dress codes and appearance at work are becoming more important in the workplace. This is partly due to a number of legal cases being highlighted in the media and uncertainties amongst employers and employees about what dress code is acceptable. Whilst most of us would be happy and comfortable in shorts and t shirts, choosing this attire would most likely get you into to trouble, yet not in all workplaces. So, in your office, could you get away with a t-shirt? What about a sleeveless dress? Can you wear sandals/flip flops/open toe shoes?

The answer to all of this is…….it depends. There are so many variances on the approach to summer work wear. Factors which will influence this are the type of industry you work in, the location, are you customer facing? Are you bound by strict Health and Safety Legislation?

What is the legal position on this? According to ACAS (Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service) an Employer’s dress code must not be discriminatory in respect of the protected characteristics in the Equality Act 2010 for age, disability, gender reassignment, religion or belief, sex, or sexual orientation. A dress code can often be used by Employers to ensure workers are safe and dressed appropriately. It should, however, relate to the job and be reasonable in nature. Employers may have a policy that sets out a reasonable standard of dress and appearance for their Company. Any dress code should apply to both men and women equally. Standards can be different, for example a policy may state "business dress" for women but may state for men "must wear a tie".

What should I do as an Employer? Employers are advised to ensure that a clear message of what is and isn’t acceptable to wear, is communicated, agreed and adhered to. It is good practice when drafting or updating a dress code for Employers to consider the reasoning behind it. Consulting with Employees over any proposed dress codes to be implemented, may ensure that the code is acceptable to both the Company and its Employees. Once agreed, it should be communicated to all employees. When setting out a policy, Employers should take into account Employees who may dress in a certain way for religious reasons. However, workers can be required not to wear certain items that could be deemed a safety risk, for example loose clothing may be a hazard if operating machinery. A dress code should be realistic and in line with the Company ethos and mission. Sometimes this can mean that Employees are asked to remove piercings or cover tattoos while at work, especially when dealing with customers. It would always be advisable to send out a memo listing the types of attire that are appropriate and inappropriate to wear to work. As Employers, it is vital you ‘spell out’ the Company policy for dress codes and the implications of non-compliance.

For further information and guidance on dress codes or any other aspect of HR requirements, please contact Sian Timbrell of Pragmatic HR on 07967199490 or

Sian Timbrell Pragmatic HR Ltd is an HR consultancy based in Swansea with Sian Timbrell MCIPD MinstLM - a Chartered Member of the CIPD, at its helm. Together with her BA (Hons) Degree in Sociology, Philosophy & Theology and her Postgraduate Diploma in Human Resource Management, Sian Timbrell is a Member of the Institute of Leadership and Management (qualified to level 5) and also has an ONC certificate in person centred counselling. Sian also has a level 3 Award in Education and Training.

With this background in mind, Sian is well versed in the field of employee relations and the sensitive situations they may present. It is noteworthy that Sian has never needed to attend or enter the process of an employment tribunal. Managing your staff proactively & pragmatically will ensure that damaging HR issues are nipped in the bud!