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Written by Sally Grundy, Senior HR Consultant, Alcumus 

Eyebrows were certainly raised recently when the story broke about a London receptionist sent home from work for refusing to wear high heels.

By way of explanation, the company she worked for said that she had agreed to abide with their dress policy, but has now said that it will review their code.

So how far can a company go to ensure that their employees’ appearance reflects the corporate image that they want to portray?

It is certainly reasonable to expect all employees to dress in a manner which is professional at all times, both within the workplace and when representing the company. However, it is also important for a company to recognise the diversity and religions of its employees and therefore a sensitive approach should be adopted when considering dress and uniform requirements.

A dress policy which has been clearly thought out and communicated to all employees is essential. The company needs to consider whether they require a formal or casual dress code, whether uniform will be supplied and also the circumstances in which protective clothing and equipment may be required.

If considering a formal dress policy, a company can reasonably expect employees to present a neat, clean and well-groomed image whilst at work (whether on the premises or working elsewhere). This is likely to include the wearing of a business suit or smart jacket/blazer and co-ordinating trousers/skirt and smart shirt/blouse. It is not unreasonable to expect male employees to wear a tie at work provided that a similar standard of smartness is applied to female employees. Jewellery should not be excessive or unconventional and it is not unusual to ban other body piercings.

When considering a more business casual dress code, a company can still expect employees to be neat, clean and tidy while at work but it makes sense to highlight what would not be considered acceptable, i.e. scruffy trousers, mini-skirts, low-cut t-shirts or blouses and transparent clothing, shorts, sports-wear (i.e. football or rugby shirts or track-suits, trainers etc.) It is also worth considering whether the company would wish any public or client facing employees to dress in a more formal style. It is becoming more widely accepted to have a “dress down” day in the week but you may still require some employees to adhere to the more formal dress code on this day.

Those companies which supply a uniform can expect employees to wear it during working hours and to ensure that it is always clean and worn in a presentable fashion. It is important to communicate that the uniform remains the property of the company, that good care is taken of it and that the uniform is returned on termination of employment.

Where protective clothing and equipment is required for the job, it is essential that employees abide to the company rules, in accordance with relevant health and safety legislation. There are also specific hygiene rules relating to appearance when working with machinery and/or with food which need to be taken into consideration.

As with any company policy or code, it has to be enforced to be maintained and any employee who disregards the dress code should be subject to disciplinary action.

For more information of what needs to be included in a relevant policy, please seek guidance from your HR Consultant.