By Amy Paxton, Senior Employment Consultant at Croner

Amy Paxton recently received the following question on how to deal with an employees’ request to change an organisations dress code policy. Now that summer is here, this is a common question received by employers. Do you know your duties as an employer?

Q: An employee has recently joined our digital agency to manage a small team of web designers. He’d prefer to introduce a slightly smarter office dress code than the current ‘wear what you like’ policy, particularly when meeting external clients. Should he try and smarten his team up, or allow them to stick with their jeans and tee shirts?

A: In the business world there is an un-written rule that when you meet clients you “dress up” a little more than you would normally. However, just because it is right and expected in some industries it doesn’t mean that it is for the employee or his team of web designers.

His team of web designers may well be more comfortable in their jeans and tee shirts, smartening them up could actually be unproductive and impact on their creativity. Nothing demonstrates individuality more than dress and appearance.

As they are in a digital and more fast-moving environment than say for example, a bank, clients may not even notice that their appearance is “less smart” or their expectations may be more relaxed than an employer might expect.

It might be helpful for the employee to sit down with his team and consult them on the changes he wishes to introduce, including the business reasons for doing this. If his team don’t agree that they should smarten up for clients he should keep an open mind and listen to any issues they raise and try to reach a compromise. He could also speak to a few clients and see if this is an issue for them — if it isn’t why bother introducing a policy?

If he decides to push ahead with implementing a dress code policy he needs to ensure this and the rules surrounding the policy are clearly communicated to his team. This should include what is meant by “slightly smarter” office dress code. Not only does this need to be done when the policy is first created it should be reinforced throughout the course of employment. If new people are employed they will need to be told of the policy in their induction programme.

Rules for dress and appearance can be included in staff handbooks and made known to all employees. Any breach of the rules can be enforced through the normal disciplinary procedures.

He will also need to eliminate any discriminatory issues as far as possible and ensure that it is of a comparable standard for men and women. The most common risk with a dress code policy is an allegation of sex discrimination. In addition he must take into account any religious customs and practices in terms of dress requirements for adherents to a particular faith.

Here are some best practice tips for employers considering implementing a dress code policy:

- Regularly review and keep up-to-date any code on appearance. Social norms regarding appearance evolve constantly and any code should be updated to reflect this.

- Ensure that any code on appearance is properly publicised within an organisation.

- Make sure the code is consistently applied throughout the organisation.

- No regulations governing appearance should have an adverse impact on one particular sex, race or individuals of a particular religion or belief.

- Consider the impact of any code on any traditional or religious dress, and be able to justify the code on business grounds in view of such factors.

Croner, provides information, advice and practical online tools to help employers deal competently and confidently with a wide range of HR issues. Find out more at www.cronersolutions.co.uk