Over the last couple of weeks the long running debate about enforcement of dress code policies in the workplace has been a hot topic once again. This follows Nicola Thorp being sent home from a Temporary booking because she was wearing flat shoes and not heels which was in conflict with the Agency’s dress code policy she had seen and signed. But do employers have the right to ask employees to dress a certain way or should we all be free to choose?
As an employer of my own staff as well as a successful team of Agency Workers I have mixed views on the subject and, as normal, I think it all boils down to a healthy dose of common sense, respect and choice – from all parties.
I firmly believe there is nothing wrong with having a dress code policy which forms part of a company’s terms and conditions of employment. A dress code policy isn’t about heels and ties and making a company reception area look photoshoot gorgeous. Yes, it is there to make sure people dress to reflect the image of the company and the sector in which it operates but it’s more often a practical consideration to ensure Health & Safety in the work place and encouraging attire that will not cause offence to colleagues or customers who will be working alongside you during the day. Job seekers are completely free to accept or reject an offer of employment based on a dress code policy as well as considerations such as salary, training, benefits, hours and so on. My Consultants are expected to look smart and professional when client / candidate facing and I WOULD send them home to change or ask another consultant to attend the meeting in their place if they weren’t. But would I judge ‘smart and professional’ on heel height and shades of eye shadow? Absolutely not! Would I consider trainers and jeans to be smart and professional? Unapologetically no!
My opinion is that a dress code should not be discriminatory towards anyone. It absolutely MUST be a ‘one size fits all’ with the exception of the health & safety aspects of differing roles within an organisation. Would you want to be operated on by a surgeon who refused to wear gloves and gown or have your meal served by a waiter in yesterday’s gym kit? Each clause should apply to every employee regardless of sex, religion, age and so on. If you want your staff to wear business attire then state that and give examples. But should you say men must wear a tie, woman must wear heels? Men must be clean shaven except in cases where beards (and similar) are for religious reasons or that women must wear makeup? I have to say I feel clauses such as these are wrong as they discriminate on the basis of sex / religion and not because of true company values or a practical necessity.
Common sense seems to be something that’s disappearing from the workplace and this makes me sad. I strongly suspect Nicola Thorp’s Agency had a dress code in place because they’d previously had workers turning up on their client’s site looking anything but ‘Office Professional’. Truly some people either have no idea how to look smart or just don’t seem to care anymore. This would have received complaints from the client to the extent the Agency may have lost money or indeed repeat business . In this scenario everyone loses – the agency and it’s own permanent employees who rely on recruitment fees for their salaries and future Temps who would happily put on a suit and secure themselves a great assignment. By having an upfront but fair Policy, everybody understands the expectation on personal appearance and behaviour which contributes to an environment where teams can blend together harmoniously.
As an Employer I feel I have the right to insist my employees look and conduct themselves in a way that represents my company and the companies I recruit for . Employees / potential employees have the right to accept my terms, along with all the others which come together to form a Contract of Employment, or reject them in favour of another Employer who better matches their own values.
What are your thoughts on this? I’m in my early 50’s and when I started work after leaving college it was an expectation that women wore heels, skirts and makeup and men wore a suit and tie and shiny shoes! It wasn’t essential in order to perform our jobs, there was nothing in writing but we understood there was a way to dress for work and we reacted accordingly. I do remember campaigning in my first recruitment job to be allowed to wear tailored trousers on the basis my male colleagues didn’t have to wear skirts. At the time my boss was my mum and she said no 🙂
By Sue Bevan – Managing Director of WendyB