The question of what to wear and what is considered ‘acceptable’ attire in
the workplace continues to be an important and sometimes confusing quandary for
staff and employers alike.
As reported in Personnel Today (20 January) this issue could now become
crucial for companies right across the UK.
Up to 7,000 cases are said to be waiting on the outcome of the landmark case
of Matthew Thompson, a Jobcentre Plus employee who won the right not to wear a
collar and tie in the office on the grounds it was discriminatory.
The CBI says that it is down to the discretion of individual companies
whether to introduce a dress code.
If the tribunal rules in Thompson’s favour, implications for employers are
potentially huge and it will signal an urgent review of what employees are
required to wear at work.
Personnel Today asked several organisations for their views on dress code
policies at work.
Angela Edge, head of people and organisational development, Carat Media
– "We have no formal policy, but we expect our people to dress in an
appropriate manner to give a good impression to clients. We encourage people to
think about their clients, match what they wear and make them at ease. If they
were going to see a large financial organisation then obviously a shirt and tie
would be appropriate. I think casual dress does improve morale, and makes
people feel more comfortable."
Mark Keeble, senior employment policy and advice consultant, Camden
– "Dress codes help recognise the diversity of the workforce as a
whole. The importance of dress as a means of self-expression is different for
everyone so for some employees it’s not an issue, for others it can be to a
greater extent. Flexible dress codes can achieve a balance between individual
choice, corporate identity and maintaining a professional image. People often
perform better when they feel comfortable and aren’t resentful of restrictive
Cary Cooper, professor of organisational psychology, Lancaster University
– "Dress policies should be about flexibility and staff using common
sense. More importantly, this is about how much autonomy management allows
staff. There should be guidelines rather than explicit codes; people will
appreciate that more than being told what to wear to work."
Marcus Jamieson-Pond, head of HR at law firm DLA
– "Our clients still have an expectation that people working in the
professional services sector will look the part, as well as deliver a quality
service. Business dress equals professionalism, but it can still be comfortable.
However, the days of top hats for partners and bowlers for the rest of us are
long gone. We do operate a casual dress policy on Fridays, and while we have
never measured productivity, there does appear to be a more relaxed atmosphere
on that day."
Bruce Robertson, regional HR leader, Levi’s
– "The only dress code we have is that if our people wear denim, it has
to be Levi’s. We want our staff to representative of the brand, but also
respectful of our customers. With our sales team, extremes such as tattoos and
piercings are not encouraged and they have to maintain a level of
professionalism. The team often wear next season’s product line when visiting
Liz Fraser, UK HR director, Weber Shandwick PR
– "We treat people like grown ups and they know when they need to wear
a suit and when it is OK to be more casual. Different divisions within the
company dress according to the needs of the business. Dress codes aren’t an
issue in today’s workplace – it is simply wearing the right clothes to suit the
business environment and meet expectations."
Common sense tips on dress
– Base the policy on business-related reasons. Explain your
reasons in the policy so employees understand the rationale behind the
restrictions. Common business-related reasons include maintaining a public
image, promoting a productive work environment, or complying with health and
– Require employees to have an appropriate, well-groomed
appearance. Even casual dress policies should specify inappropriate clothing
(such as shorts and jeans) and any special requirements for employees who deal
with the public
– Communicate the policy. Use employee handbooks or memos to
alert employees to the new policy, any revisions, and penalties for non-compliance.
Explain the policy to job candidates
– Apply the dress code policy uniformly to all employees. This
can prevent claims that the policy adversely affects women or minorities.
However, you may have to make exceptions if required by law
– Make reasonable accommodation when the situation requires an
exception. Be prepared to accommodate requests for religious practices and
disabilities, such as head coverings
– Apply consistent discipline for dress code violations. Point
out why their attire does not comply with the code and what a person should do