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Can we introduce a dress code for practice staff?

Barristers Michael Salter and Chris Bryden advise on the sometimes tricky problem of introducing a practice dress code.

Barristers Michael Salter and Chris Bryden advise on the sometimes tricky problem of introducing a practice dress code.

THE SITUATION

My Practice wishes to introduce a formal dress code for all of our non-medical staff. How can we do this?

THE ADVICE

The starting point when considering such matters in an employment situation is to recognise that the introduction of a dress code may amount to a variation of contract.

It may therefore be necessary to re-issue contracts of employment that include reference to the new code.

This may not be necessary however if the existing contracts refer to a pre-existing dress code which is simply being altered and which is contained in a separate document to the contract.

A written dress code should be produced in order that everyone knows what is expected of them while at work.

The code itself need not be very long.

However care must be taken to define any terms which may seem obvious to you but which may not be clear to the employee because they allow for subjective interpretation - for instance "smart casual" or "office dress".

Previous Legal Lessons have discussed the concept of constructive dismissal (where an employee resigns in response to a breach of contract by the employer).

An employee may argue that an overly strict dress code could result in such a breach of contract.

However, provided that the practice could show that it had reasonable and proper cause for introducing a dress code in the terms that it does, it is unlikely that a claim would succeed.

A potentially more costly risk that the practice should be aware of when drafting the dress code is the potential for claims of discrimination to be made by employees.

There have been a number of cases involving allegations of discrimination on the grounds of religion and belief that involve dress codes recently.

There have also been cases of sex discrimination brought before employment tribunals which involve the implementation of dress codes.

Of course, as has been considered in past Legal Lessons, some forms of discrimination can be justified.

A common justification for dress codes is health and safety, or hygiene.

Care therefore needs to be taken when implementing dress codes in order that they are clear and so reduce the potential for litigation.

As has been counselled before (and will be again!) the best way to succeed in litigation is to avoid it!

Therefore the practice should consider what its reasons are for introducing a dress code and why it is necessary.

Further, the practice should explain to its employees why the restrictions are being imposed and the consequences of non-compliance.

Finally ensure that employees know there is someone they can speak to about the implementation of the dress code.

Obviously, if an employee raises a concern then the practice should listen to these concerns.

The employee should be consulted to see whether a mutually agreeable solution can be arrived at which upholds the spirit of the dress code while also dealing with the issue raised.

Michael Salter and Chris Bryden are barristers at 2 Gray's Inn Square Chambers: www.2gis.co.uk Michael Salter is also able to accept instructions directly from readrs of Pulse. Please visit www.michaelsalter.net for guidance on how to instruct him. Legal points are provided for discussion only and are given without obligation. For specific legal advice consult your solicitor or contact Michael Salter via his website

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