It’s the way you wear it

Christmas party dress code

How does your company dress code stand up to the latest government guidance and what do you need to consider for this year’s Christmas party?

Government Guidance

Earlier in the year, the government released some long-awaited guidance on discriminatory dress codes [CIPD: New dress code guidance published 22/05/2018].

Called ‘Dress codes and sex discrimination – what you need to know’ it offers best practice guidelines on how employers can avoid dress codes being discriminatory – with particular focus on sex discrimination.

The guidance followed a petition set up by Nicola Thorp, whose agency told her its grooming policy insisted women wear heels measuring between two and four inches. She was sent home for wearing flat shoes. The petition gathered more than 150,00 signatures.

The petition led to a report produced by two parliamentary committees, which gathered evidence from hundreds of women who felt that the way they had been forced to dress while at work was discriminatory or made them feel uncomfortable.

The guidance followed in May and while it doesn’t suggest that dress codes and uniforms for males and female staff should be identical, it does say that the standards imposed on both genders should be of an equivalent level.

The guidance isn’t very exact and it has been accused of being too wishy washy, with too many suggestions rather than hard guidelines – perhaps not surprising due to its very nature whilst considering LGBTQ. (For more information on LGBTQ, please click on the Wikipedia link.) But the general upshot is that while it says it may be unlawful to expect women to wear high heels, it would be best for companies to avoid making any gender-specific requirements at all when it comes to dress codes. For example, the dress code could require all employees – of either gender – to ‘wear smart shoes’.

Employers also need to consider religious requirements – for example expecting staff to wear a skirt, which could be against religious requirements to keep their legs covered.

Where the standards are the same for both genders – ie you need to dress smartly – you are on solid ground. Once you start expecting women to wear makeup or nail varnish or skirts – which is gender-specific – then that ground becomes legally shaky.

You might also need to think about making clothes accessible for those with disabilities. Not all disabilities are visible – someone with diabetes or arthritis may find it uncomfortable to wear smart shoes for instance. Someone in a wheelchair or with mobility issues may struggle with zips and buttons or find them uncomfortable when sitting in a chair.

Office Parties

Lots of companies have already booked their Christmas party – while some of us do little more than arrange a meal in a local pub with a few drinks, other companies arrange far grander affairs. It’s vital that you consider how any dress code could affect your employees and overshadow what is supposed to be a fun event to look forward to. At all times, think inclusiveness.

For instance, have you made it a black-tie affair? Not everyone has a dress suit in the wardrobe – and hiring one is not cheap. While your managers may think nothing of shelling out for suit hire, consider younger, lower-paid staff – and people who just don’t have spare cash to spend on one night out.

The same goes for female staff who may not be able to splash out for a new dress and for what should have been a fun night out with colleagues.

It’s important that everyone feels comfortable with the party dress code – if you are planning on some sort of themed event, ensure the fancy dress is easily attainable. Going for a colour theme – black and white for instance – allows people to enter the spirit as much as they want to/are able to. It’s easy to add a white scarf to a black dress, while those who want to go all out are welcome to hire a panda costume or get the department to dress up as a set of dominoes!

Giving people plenty of choice and options will allow them to do what they feel comfortable with and leave them to enjoy the night – which is the whole point of that office party!

If you would like to discuss any issues relating to inclusiveness, and how it may affect your business, please contact Cecily Lalloo at Embrace HR Limited.

T: 01296 769 282 or contact us here.

Based in Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire, Embrace HR Limited supports business owners who do not have their own HR department or those that do but need help from time to time. We also work across the Home Counties of Oxfordshire, Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire, and also SMEs based in London.