High heels on the march over employee dress codes

In recent months employees among our clients have shown more interest in employee dress codes than any other HR policy or procedure within their employee handbook. A petition to stop firms from requiring women to wear high heels at work has attracted over 152,000 signatures.

It is unsurprising that the topic is getting the attention of employees. On the one hand, there is the explicit requirement by some employers for women to wear high heels, specific makeup and revealing outfits while on the other hand some Muslim women insist on covering themselves entirely.

A parliamentary report has now ruled that hundreds of female workers have faced sexism at work by being ordered to follow strict dress codes. It may be a matter of time before the Equality Act is amended and, probably rather less time, before strict dress codes are tested in court.

Dress codes are nonetheless important. They reflect the image the employer wishes to portray to its clients, customers, business partners and, often, the public. Here is our broad guidance:

Define the message you want to convey

An accountancy firm will wish to project professionalism whereas formal wear would not be appropriate for a care assistant, for example. A web designer may need to decide on a balance between creativity and professionalism, depending perhaps on the market at which they are aiming and the level of exposure designers have to customers.

Make your dress code general rather than prescriptive

No dress code is going to anticipate every possible circumstance, fashion trend or religious sensitivity. So adopting a code that provides sensible guidance will enable you to exercise some discretion if there is too much deviation from the accepted norm.

If you prefer to impose strict requirements, make-up, heels, nail colours, etc ,then you might not be alone among employers, particularly for client or customer facing roles. However you may be storing up challenges, including legal challenges, for the future.

Adopt a dress code suitable to your business and environment

“The message” is not everything, the environment is important too. You will appreciate that manufacturers, care homes, retail, hospitality, professional firms, and even the office and shop-floor within one company, all have different needs.

Get employee buy-in

A consultation (not a negotiation!) with your staff or employees enables you to explain the message you want to convey and relevant circumstances. By involving them in a discussion you can get their buy-in. You may want to examine what may or may not be acceptable. Aim for agreement on general guidance rather than detail. Buy-in means less likelihood of needing to deal with “individualists” at a later date as gentle peer pressure will foster conformity.

Talk to Employer Solutions

We have prepared a dress codes for many organisations including the Council of Mosques, care homes, and professional firms. We are familiar with the issues involved and the essential legalities. We have suitable pre-prepared codes for several circumstances. If you are consulting with your employees then involving an outside party can be very helpful.

Training Courses

Click here to register for one of our Training Courses.