Whether or not you have a staff uniform, writing a dress code could save you from awkward conversations and potential discrimination claims, explains David Wright
Employers have very different views on how their staff should appear on the salon floor. Some opt for a highly specific uniform and appearance code, others have a general description such as “you must wear black”, and others, particularly hair salons, encourage staff to express their personal identities. There isn’t a right or wrong style, but there are laws about how far you can go.
Dress codes or uniform policies are often found in salons’ workplace rules. Uniforms can present a professional, corporate image but also protect against claims for product damage to therapists’ clothing. Specifying what can be worn is also easier than making ad hoc decisions about what staff can’t wear when they try to stretch the boundaries. Policies often extend to jewellery and make-up, as well as hair, tattoos and piercings.
Tattoos and piercings
There has been a surge in the popularity of body art with an estimated 33% of adults over 18 having a tattoo or body piercing, so be careful your rules don’t exclude potentially good employees. You may decide to implement a rule stating employees can’t have body piercings or tattoos on show because this is consistent with your salon image or avoids offending clients, but it’s likely a third of your customers will have a tattoo themselves, so it could be time to update your guidelines.
Historically, there have been successful dress code discrimination claims based on gender – recently we had the “receptionists must wear high heels” case. However, cases involving religious discrimination are also becoming more common and it’s important to understand all circumstances under which dress codes could offend. Requiring all women to wear dresses, for example, might impact unfavourably on a Muslim woman who wanted to wear trousers. Interestingly, discrimination claims related to wearing a headscarf have to date been unsuccessful, providing the code applies to all staff. But it really is a can of worms for employers and you should ask yourself whether a headscarf adversely affects the therapist’s ability to provide a great service. There was also a recent claim from a British Airways employee who wanted to wear a crucifix. My best advice is to review your dress code and make sure the rules are genuinely job related and nondiscriminatory.
Dos and don’ts
1. Make sure rules relate to the tasks being performed. For example, if employees’ hair must be tied back then explain why.
2. Ensure your code is non-discriminatory. You might not employ men currently, but you could, so the wording should apply equally to men and women. Similarly, you can get into problems where the policy impacts on cultural and religious issues.
3. Make it clear if there are seasonal exceptions; for example, we regularly receive calls about staff turning up in flip-flops in the summer.
4. Make sure your rules are written and that staff read them and sign to say they have understood them.
There is no legal obligation on employers to pay for a uniform unless it is deemed to be protective clothing. Many salons still do so and indicate its life expectancy. Some give more than one per therapist and a few even provide a laundry service. There are tax benefits for the employer purchasing staff uniforms. Another option is to pay for the uniform then recover the cost with a series of monthly salary deductions – but the deduction must not take the employee below the national living or minimum wage rate. There are other variables to consider. What if an employee constantly reports for work not in the full uniform? What if someone’s uniform is damaged or it no longer fits? What happens during pregnancy? A reasonable adjustment as part of a pregnancy risk assessment might be to relax the uniform policy for pregnant staff. The same might apply if you have a disabled worker. Make sure your policy is clearly written; then, if staff don’t adhere to it, you can use your disciplinary procedure.
David Wright is a consultant in all aspects of employment practice and law. He is the main employment law consultant for Habia and provides a personalised support service for UK salons.