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Dress Code Policies - how to manage what employees wear in the workplace

Dress Code Policies - how to manage what employees wear in the workplace

Returning to the office

As things start to return to where they were prior to the pandemic, many businesses are thinking about dress codes.

Many office-based businesses have relaxed their dress code during the Covid crisis, some opting for a totally relaxed and casual dress code, especially for employees working from home.

Why are dress codes necessary?

Dress codes are utilised by employers for a number of reasons, be they to convey a professional image, a brand, they are required for health and safety reasons, or a uniform. For those employers who already have a dress code policy in place, the return to work is an opportunity to review it and ensure it still meets the needs of the business now. This is especially important now that so many employees continue to work from home, have opted for hybrid working, or meet customers and clients online.

5 Top Tips for Dress Codes

Here are some of the key things you should consider when creating a new or updating an existing dress code policy:

1. Sex Discrimination

Concern is often expressed about whether having a policy which sets out different requirements for men and women is discriminatory. Past claims have challenged policies that have advised that women must wear skirts or men must wear a collar and tie for example. The good news is that to date the courts have held that dress codes differentiating between men and women are not automatically discriminatory.

Despite this, when deciding on your policy be mindful that conventions can change and although advising that women are required to wear a skirt may have been accepted 30 years ago, a safer option now would be to offer a choice of trousers or skirt, providing the trousers were still appropriately formal.

2. Religion/belief discrimination

A dress code that requires employees to act in a way contrary to their religious beliefs runs the risk of being indirectly discriminatory. For example, some religions direct wearing head coverings and a “no hat” policy may violate those practices.

3. Disability discrimination

Disabled employees may not be able to comply with a dress code, however, on the whole, this does not need to affect the way the dress code is drafted. Instead, employers should be sensitive in the manner in which the dress code is enforced.

4. Safety

Another benefit of having a dress code policy is to improve the safety of the working environment. Dependent on the environment, requiring employees to wear closed-toe shoes, banning dangling jewellery or scarves, or specifying that long hair needs to be tied up can result in fewer injuries in the workplace.

Dress codes are separate from policies on the use of protective clothing, which would normally appear separately or as part of health and safety policy.

5. Clarity 

It needs to be drafted in a clear and reasonable way. It is important to ensure that the language used in your policy is not too broad and open-ended, as this could result in a policy that is hard to follow and to enforce. Phrases like “professional attire” and “smart casual” are frequently used, but this is unclear to what it actually means. Using plain English and phrases such as ‘no jeans’ or ‘open-toed sandals’.

You should also consider what is reasonable and necessary for your working environment.  For example, long hair may need to be tied up if working in a kitchen but not front of house. Drafting a policy that is unreasonably strict is also harder to enforce and may result in disciplinary complications, not to mention being damaging to staff morale.


All dress code policies need to be carefully drafted with thought and consideration to ensure discrimination is avoided, but also to ensure there is a reasonable expectation of how people should dress in the workplace, based squarely on the business's needs.

Policies need to have clarity and be communicated in the right way. A successful dress code policy should bring staff together under a single identity and employees need to know and adhere to the dress code policy, unless there are specific exceptions which might be based on religion or disability for example.

If you need assistance in drafting or updating your dress code policy then please get in touch with Lawson West's employment team: 

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