IRS dress code survey 2009

Employers with dress codes are more likely to worry about general complaints from disgruntled employees about restrictions on appearance than the risk of sparking discrimination claims, according to the 2009 IRS dress code survey, published today exclusively by XpertHR.


In line with the findings of the 2007 IRS dress code survey, half of the 94 organisations (49%) take a regulatory approach to their dress and appearance policy, linking their guidelines to the employment contract. Almost all the employers (97%) say their code is largely adhered to, but one-quarter (23%) say compliance requires policing and one in four (25%) has disciplined at least one employee for flouting the dress code in the past two years.


When preparing the guidelines, two-thirds (68%) have taken measures to ensure they do not breach anti-discrimination law. This frequently involves obtaining legal advice and either keeping the guidelines flexible and open, or inserting a clause to clarify the position on religious attire.


Only two of the 143 dress codes covered by the survey expressly prohibits religious headwear such as turbans, hijabs and scarves, and just three ban the wearing of accessories with religious significance, such as crucifixes. As the table shows, six out of 10 of the employers (59%) give employees complete freedom regarding the wearing of religious headwear, while less than one in 10 (6% for men and 7% for women) apply restrictions, and one-third (34% for men and 33% for women) simply choose to make no reference to it in the dress code guidelines.


“The survey indicates that the benefits of having a formal dress and appearance policy – such as an enhanced corporate image, consistent cultural standards and health and safety – outweigh the drawbacks,” says Charlotte Wolff, XpertHR editor and report author.


“Although case law shows that discrimination claims relating to dress and appearance are a real risk, most employers appear to have taken the necessary precautions to ensure their dress code is compliant with the law.”


Among the survey participants, one-third of the employers (31%) recognise that the risk of facing a discrimination claim is a drawback, but more commonly, they are concerned that it will provoke general complaints from employees (41%).


“One in 10 of the organisations (9%) have been accused by an employee of discriminatory practices, but, judging from the examples given by these employers, those who are willing to be flexible can avert further action being taken,” adds Wolff.


“For example, one employer was reluctant to allow men to wear shorts in hot weather, but when it was pointed out that this could be discriminatory, it allowed them to be worn, but stipulated the length. If women in the same employee group were allowed to wear skirts or shorts, the ban on shorts for men could have been construed as sex discrimination.”


In terms of workplace fashion, dress codes are twice as likely to be smart-casual (43%) compared with formal business attire (22%). Private sector service companies, especially those in the finance sector, are twice as likely to enforce formal business attire compared with other sectors (27% of private sector service organisations compared with 14% of manufacturing and production companies and 15% in the public sector).


When defining smart-casual wear for men, half of employers (49%) exclude jeans and trainers altogether, seven in 10 (70%) exclude shorts, and one-quarter (27%) ban open-toed sandals. When it comes to smart-casual wear for women, jeans and trainers are similarly banned by half the employers (49%), shorts by half (53%), cut-off tops by three-quarters (72%), and open-toed sandals by just one in 10 (9%). Women can wear trousers at almost all the organisations (97%).

 

Employers’ stance on accessories and religious attire

 


Accessories and religious attire for male employees (% of employer dress codes)





























































 GarmentAllowed  Allowed with restrictionsNot allowed  Not stipulated in code

 Religious headwear (eg, turbans)


 59%


 6%


 1%


 34%


 Hats


 15%


 18%


 25%


 42%


 Religious accessories (eg, crucifix)


 46%


16%


2%


36%


 Jewellery (eg, earrings, necklaces, bracelets)


 46%


27%


7%


20%


 Tattoos


27%


28%


6%


39%


Piercings


22%


33%


8%


37%


Facial hair (eg, beard)


50%


15%


3%


32%


Source: IRS






 


 


 


 



Accessories and religious attire for female employees
(% of employer dress codes)


 




































 Garment Allowed   Allowed with restrictions Not allowed   Not stipulated in code

 Religious headwear (eg, hijabs, scarves)


 59%


 7%


 1%


 33%


 Hats


 14%


 18%


 23%


 45%


 Religious accessories (eg, crucifix)


 46%


16%


2%


36%


 Jewellery (general – eg, necklaces, bracelets)


 46%


27%


6%


21%


 Tattoos


28%


27%


6%


21%


Piercings


23%


34%


5%


38%


Source: IRS

 

Read the full report

 

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