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Avoid a dressing-down on a company dress code

01 Feb 2017

Many employers are keen to portray a corporate image that is a manifestation of their professionalism and brand identity. For any member of staff who might come into contact with a customer or client, personal presentation is often seen as a key part of this. 

One of the people that responded to the Government’s online forum which ultimately led to the recent report talked of her experience of working at a world-famous Knightsbridge department store. She talked of minimum heel heights – three inches in the Children’s Nursery department, possibly higher elsewhere in the store. She also explained there was a photo of a lady’s face showing staff how they were expected to be made up; guidance on manicures and hair highlights.

Employers may want to ensure their customer-facing staff present the right physical image. Airlines and high street fashion retailers have been insisting on this for years.

But it is important to take account of the Equality Act 2010, to avoid claims for discrimination by staff and job applicants on the grounds of sex, race, or religion and belief.

While employers feel that they should have control over how their staff present themselves, many employees feel that part of their individuality as a human being is not something which they should have to compromise.

What about tattoos and piercings? How far can an employer go to insist staff cover up? There may be a generational dimension here: one statistic readily quoted relates to the  low percentage (around. five per cent) of those over 60 with tattoos, compared with a far higher percentage of younger people – it is said that possibly as many as half those in their 20's have some tattoo or other body art. Although these statistics were produced before David Dimbleby joined the body art movement!

Employers actively seeking to connect with a younger audience – whether employees or customers – may find themselves pressured into reviewing their dress code policies.  A measured approach following consultation with staff is likely to help introduce a more sustainable policy. As always, employers who do want to lay down their law, must think carefully about how they are going to explain and rationalise their dress code policies.

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