ACAS Guidance to Ensure Your Dress Code Policy is Legal

The vast majority of care providers have a requirement for staff to adhere to a specific dress code whilst at work. In many cases, this is a uniform but it may also cover how non-clinical staff dress, or set out requirements in relation to the wearing of jewellery, or the presence of visible tattoos.

However, there have been a number of cases where dress codes have been challenged, particularly on the grounds of religion or gender. In response to this, ACAS has published helpful guidance for employers to ensure that any dress code in use is legal, non-discriminatory and avoids the potential pitfalls that could lead to potentially expensive and unnecessary challenges. Read on to find out more about the ACAS guidance and how you can ensure your own dress code is legally compliant.

Setting a dress code may seem straightforward but ACAS recommends that employers adhere to 4 key principles when setting standards for employees:

  1. Employers must avoid unlawful discrimination in any dress code policy.
  2. Employers may have health and safety reasons for having certain standards.
  3. Dress codes must apply to both men and women equally, although they may have different requirements.
  4. Reasonable adjustments must be made for disabled people when dress codes are in place.

4 Steps to Set a Safe and Successful Dress Code

  1. Set clear expectations. Your policy should clearly set out what you consider to be a reasonable standard of dress and appearance for your organisation. The dress code should be non-discriminatory and should apply to both male and female staff equally. However, standards can be different, for example, a policy may require ‘business dress’ for women but may state that men ‘must wear a tie’.
  2. Consider tattoos and piercings. You may wish to promote a particular image to reflect the ethos and values of your service and this may mean that you require staff to remove piercings or cover tattoos while at work. Even if you believe you have a good business reason for this, you should carefully consider your reasons as they should have sound justification for requiring these dress codes. Your requirements should be written down in a policy available to all staff so they are clear about your expectations.
  3. Be aware of religious requirements. You may well have staff from a range of religions and cultures who have specific styles of dress that do not meet your standard dress code. Remember to tread carefully in this area, as your code should allow employees to wear items of clothing, or jewellery, that are significant to their faith. You will need to justify the reasons for banning such items and should ensure they are not indirectly discriminating against your staff.
  4. Remember the need for exceptions. Your staff may wish to support nominated charities which involve exceptions to your usual dress code rules, such as Jeans for Genes day, but should be aware of the need to seek permission from a manager before going ahead.

Are you responsible for managing care workers? Make sure you read Care Quality Matters – essential advice, resources, tools and checklists for Registered Managers.

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