Do we need a dress code in the workplace?
Employers introduce dress codes and uniforms into the workplace for a variety of reasons, whether for style, hygiene or branding purposes. Generally, a dress code is considered to be a matter that is negotiated between employers and employees and it is not a matter covered within legislation or employment awards. Codes are usually a policy statement that sets out an employer’s requirements and rules as to what is considered appropriate attire in the workplace. They include considerations such as; the form of clothing itself, footwear, tattoos, body piercings, hairstyles and jewellery.
Recent cases have highlighted the need for employers to have a well-drafted dress code to ensure they are not opened to claims of discrimination. Whilst employers are able to issue a directive about dress and appearance of employees in the workplace, the directive must be reasonable. In particular, a dress code that requires rules for a specific gender can leave the employer open to a gender-related discrimination claim. For example, a dress code that requires only female employees to wear heels in the workplace.
On the other hand, employers may also be considered negligent if uniforms or dress codes are not enforced. For example, an employer may be in breach of their workplace health and safety obligations if they do not have or enforce a dress code for outdoor workers who are exposed to the sun but are not required to wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants.
Whilst breaches against the dress code may result in a disciplinary process, the individual circumstances of each situation also need to be considered. Employers need to ask first if there could be a legitimate reason why the employee is not adhering to the code? For example, having a dress code policy that states employees are not to wear anything on their heads. If an employer took disciplinary action against an employee for wearing a religious head covering, this action may be found to be discriminatory and unfair. Employers should also ensure that any enforcement action against the code adheres to usual procedural fairness requirements.
Similar consideration needs to be given during recruitment processes. For example, an employer may have a dress code that states not to hire any workers with visible tattoos. However, not making an allowance for potential employees of a certain culture that have visible tattoos connected with their ethnic origins may leave the employer open to a claim of racial discrimination.
In Queensland, physical appearance is not a protected attribute. Therefore, generally, the Anti-Discrimination Commission Queensland will not hear complaints of discrimination from people who have tattoos (unless they are cultural), have body piercings or don’t meet grooming standards or the dress code.
Things to consider
Employers also need to give consideration to the process undertaken when implementing a new dress code or changing the current one. As part of this process some good questions to consider include: -
- Are the requirements set in the code genuinely related to the nature of the workplace, and inherent requirements of the job;
- Do the requirements apply consistently to all employees;
- Is there enough flexibility to accommodate individual circumstances; and
- Does the code comply with employers’ obligations and duties such as workplace health and safety, or food safety and handling?
If you need any assistance reviewing or implementing a workplace dress code, please contact Preston HR on 07 4052 0709.