Can men wear shorts at work?

It is forecast to be one of the hottest days of the year and one of your more “assertive” male employees turns up in shorts. Do you have to accept it? Well, it depends…

An inherent (implied and unwritten) part of any contract of employment (not likely to apply to a “worker” though) is that the employee has to cooperate with the employer. This is however subject to a test of “reasonableness”. This basically means that, if it comes to court, you have to have a more reasonable argument than your adversary if are to defend your case successfully.

So can I ban shorts?

You have to ask first what the “norms” are in your sector? Employers are entitled to expect employees to comply with normal expectations for the sector in which they work. So in an outdoor pursuits centre obviously shorts are non-controversial whereas in an accountancy practice shorts would not meet usual business expectations. Other professional areas of work would be similar so, I would argue that, in the professional sector, it is reasonable to refuse to accept men in shorts at work. Many High Street brands sell summer suits and it is now generally acceptable to ditch the jacket and tie in hot conditions.

Customer facing roles would also be an argument for refusing to accept shorts, so long as that is consistent with the business image. A smart menswear shop would be able to take a different attitude to shorts from, say, a builders supply merchants where customers may come in wearing shorts. Frances O’Grady, General Secretary of the TUC acknowledges that ” shorts ….won’t be the right attire for all workers, but no-one should be made to suffer unnecessarily in the heat for the sake of appearances.”

So while you can insist on conventional standards of dress and appearance for a particular occupation it is worth remembering that the implication of reasonable cooperation cuts both ways.

Can I send him home to change?

Yes, so long as you intend to pay him. The test of reasonableness comes into play again. However if he has a two hour commute and you don’t pay him then he might put in an unlawful deduction from wages claim – which would be a major irritation. Furthermore in the interests of the employee-employer relationship it may be better to find a temporary solution for the day.

Can I invoke the disciplinary procedure?

This would be an unwise first step. Far better to “have a word” with the employee and politely make the employee aware of your expectations. We train supervisors and managers in the skills to have an effective “word” with an employee.

If you are met with defiance then you may have no alternative. However, I would suggest that defiance is unlikely especially if the employee realises you are firm about your expectations.

Could I face a sex discrimination claim?

Possibly, but it is very unlikely. You might allow women to wear shorts, and refuse that option for men. The point is that you are entitled to insist on an equivalent level of smartness for men and women as is consistent with conventions. Anyone challenging you in court would have to show evidence that you had different standards for each group.

Should I have a dress code?

Probably. Sometimes less is more but if you want to require rigorous standards of dress or if you face employees with poor personal presentation then a dress code backs you up for actions that you might take.

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