by Gemma O’Connor, Services and Operations Manager at Peninsula
The pandemic disrupted the workplace in all sorts of ways.
While remote working and online communications advanced immeasurably in response to working through COVID-19 restrictions, it’s arguable that other workplace fundamentals lost ground.
One such former HR mainstay that is still recovering from the pandemic is the dress code.
With staff now splitting their time more and more between onsite work and remote work, the longstanding requirement to wear professional attire in the workplace appears to have lost relevance following the pandemic.
Are dress codes really on the slide?
As the workplace grew increasingly flexible in response to the challenges of working through the pandemic, many employers have been permitting a similar flexibility when it comes to how to dress for work.
As remote working is now far more commonplace, many businesses are reconsidering their dress code policies to reflect their current work practices.
Other employers have not explicitly updated their dress code policy but are tacitly approving a more casual approach to attire.
How dress codes set standards
The issue of employee appearance also hit the headlines recently when An Garda Síochána sent home a number of cadets who had visible tattoos.
While some people argued that the decision was ultraconservative, there is an argument to be made for a dress code that accurately reflects the values and goals of an organisation.
A clear set of standards set out in a dress code can help workplaces build a strong culture of professionalism, a sense of common purpose among employees and even help sustain high levels of productivity.
A dress code is particularly important in client and customer facing roles.
Employees in a corporate law firm will need to dress appropriately for client interactions while employees in a retail business will need to dress in a way that helps customers feel they are approaching someone who is knowledgeable about the items on sale.
Use a dress code to promote your brand
There are other real business benefits to be gained from a dress code.
Many employees welcome a dress code as when the rules are clear, there is less confusion around what to wear and there is little to no risk of turning up in an inappropriate outfit.
A dress code also helps maintain the image or brand that a business wants to promote. It’s important for organisations to ensure that employees represent the business they work for during all interactions with colleagues and customers or clients.
A dress code can even help a business comply with its health & safety duties.
Appropriate dress codes are vital for certain labour intensive or inherently risky roles that require personal protective clothing.
Dress code risks
While a dress code can promote professionalism and help a business project their brand, employers also need to consider discrimination risks.
When deciding on what dress code to implement, employers must be careful not to discriminate against certain employees. There are nine protected characteristics in Irish employment equality legislation and a dress code which treats employees less favourably on the basis of any of these characteristics may lead to discrimination claims.
The Labour Court recently awarded €6,000 to an Aer Lingus employee when finding that a dress code requirement for female staff to wear medium or high-heeled shoes amounted to unfavourable treatment on the ground of gender.
Employers should also follow fair and consistent disciplinary procedures if they need to manage an employee who is not complying with dress code requirements.
A balanced approach
To achieve a fair balance between the employer’s requirements and the employee’s right to present themselves in a way they feel comfortable, employers should consult staff on the development of a dress code.
With so much change in the workplace during the past few years, it may be time for a lot of employers to review their dress code requirements.
Following consultation with staff and consideration of their suggestions, employers can develop an up-to-date dress code policy that meets business requirements and boosts employee satisfaction.