Workplace dress codes are no longer about ties and skirt lengths, they extend to religious headgear, tattoos and more. And with such a complicated set of factors, it’s time employers took a good look at their rules and changed with the times, says Tayside solicitors firm Miller Hendry.
Rules surrounding workplace dress were highlighted again recently when the Trades Union Congress approved a petition launched by Nicola Thorp, who was told to wear shoes with a heel at her job with consultancy firm PwC. Thorp’s petition has attracted more than 150,000 signatures. The deadline for signatures is 9th November. Parliament will consider for debate all petitions that get more than 100,000 signatures. This month a new research paper and dress code guidance from the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS) stressed that dress codes should not be stricter for one gender over another, nor discriminatory in terms of age, disability, gender reassignment, religion, belief, sex or sexual orientation. It also suggests that employers consult with their employees over any proposed dress code.
The new ACAS guidance highlights the fact that dress codes today go beyond neckties and skirt lengths. Its research found that public and private sector employers had issues with people with visible tattoos, and yet almost a third of young people now have tattoos. “So while it remains a legitimate business decision, a dress code that restricts people with tattoos might mean companies are missing out on talented workers,” said Stephen Williams, head of equality with ACAS. Alan Matthew, employment expert at solicitors firm Miller Hendry, with offices in Dundee, Perth and Crieff, said: “When an employer can send home a worker for not wearing high heels, as happened with Nicola Thorp, and when managers can have a problem with tattoos – and yet a third of young people have them – clearly it was time for a new set of rules surrounding workplace dress codes. We would urge employers to draw up their workplace dress rules carefully and to be attuned not to their individual preferences, but to the needs and image of the workplace as a whole, as well as societal trends.”