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If your staff are client/customer facing you will need to consider what is appropriate dress and if you need or want to be prescriptive about tattoos, piercings, facial hair (with the trend for very bushy beards continuing) and normal hair. Many employers have a relaxed dress code policy now and generally staff prefer this.
However, more ‘formal’ industries, for example finance and retail, may take appearance more seriously and/or provide a full or part uniform – especially in client/customer facing roles.
As employers, you have every right to implement a dress/appearance code for your staff to protect your business image, but your policy must be proportionate to the organisation’s function and justified. In today’s climate employers need to be very careful about what you prescribe staff should wear. For example:
(From 1st October 2015 the Deregulation Bill came into force allowing Sikhs not to wear safety helmets in all work environments – Sikhs were already exempt from wearing safety helmets in the construction sector, but were required to wear helmets in lower risk workplaces, such as factories, warehouses, and transport. There will remain a few exceptions such as the armed forces and emergency response situations where turbans cannot be worn).
So, making general ‘prohibitions’ are best – no beachwear, no sportswear, no offensive messages or logos, maybe no tight or revealing clothes. You may also need to consider reasonable footwear if there are H&S implications. And you may want to consider issues of Personal Hygiene! And whether you can relax rules in certain circumstances, e.g. hot weather, non-client facing days etc.
What about tattoos, piercings, and facial hair?
There have been many media stories about how staff have been treated because of their tattoos, piercings and other body modifications – terminated job interviews, losing out on promotions, having to leave jobs because of feeling continuously undermined or harassed.
Currently having a tattoo or piercing is not covered by the Equality Act 2010 although there are frequent calls from some quarters for discrimination against people with tattoos and piercings to be added. In an October 2015 Survey, 59% of UK workers felt people with tattoos and piercings would face lower career progression despite 44% of the UK workforce admitting to having tattoos and 32% of workers having non-standard piercings.
With Tattoos, piercings and facial hair becoming ever-more popular many employers have already considered this:
There is an alternate view though that the taboos around tattoos and piercings may be relaxing as employers recognize they could increase their talent pools for staff by including them (especially in the creative industries for example).
At the moment it may appear that employers can discriminate freely against those with tattoos/piercings, but issuing a blanket ban on this type of ‘body art’ could, theoretically, prove a problem. Recent statistics say that less than 5% of those aged over 65 have a tattoo – so a blanket ban could be seen as ageist to younger staff if a disadvantage to a particular aged group could be proved. This has not yet been tested in the Courts to our knowledge – and employers will always be able to argue they could justify such a treatment on the grounds of promoting a professional/corporate image.
However, employees who genuinely have piercing or tattoos (or temporary henna art) as a manifestation of their religion or belief, may be able to seek a claim for discrimination on the grounds of religion or belief, if they were forced to cover up their art or piercing, or were refused a job, or were dismissed because of it.
What about facial hair? Aside from religious reasons (explained above) Employers should be able to implement a grooming policy requesting that beards, sideburns and moustaches are kept trimmed and groomed and kept clean (free from food!).
In a late 2015 survey about beards, they were in the list of top 20 ‘items’ considered inappropriate for the workplace; however contrast that to a survey by grooming brand Braun in June 2015 that found that 52% of British males had some sort of facial hair.
And normal hair? You can also ask staff with long hair to keep it clean and tidy and tie it up or back if this is necessary for H&S reasons. You may also want to consider whether ‘unnatural’ bright hair colours are acceptable in your business.
When you’ve decided what is appropriate for your Grooming and Dress Code policy make sure you communicate your policy to your staff and Contractors and ensure they can discuss it with you if they have any objections based on religion, sex or medical grounds.
If you are an Employer and need ongoing professional help with any staff/freelance issues then talk to Lesley at The HR Kiosk – a Human Resources Consultancy for small businesses – our fees are low to reflect the pressures on small businesses and you can hire us for as much time as you need.
Please note that the advice given on this website and by our Advisors is guidance only and cannot be taken as an authoritative or current interpretation of the law. It can also not be seen as specific advice for individual cases. Please also note that there are differences in legislation in Northern Ireland.
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