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Latest thinking on dress code

Friday, 11 November 2016


The old adage “don’t judge a book by its cover” is one that’s often overlooked when it comes to recruitment. All kinds of signals can mean that employers disregard candidates on a first impression, before properly exploring their ability.

Under the Equality Act 2010 this can of course be illegal, if a prejudice is based upon one of nine protected characteristics such as gender or age. But what about cases where it’s not illegal to dismiss an applicant, even if they are the best for the job? Take visible tattoos for example. Research suggests one third of young people (16-45) now sport a tattoo. Are dress codes that prohibit ‘body art’ ruling out too many talented people from jobs, to the detriment of the business as well as the applicant?

Independent research commissioned by ACAS revealed the extent of tattooing among the young. It also found that in the public sector there was concern about the perceived level of professionalism of those with visible tattoos, whilst in the private sector there was worry that visible tattoos would put off potential customers or clients.


While these are certainly real world concerns to be considered, they should be weighed up against the opportunity cost of missing out on a fantastic employee because of what might be an arbitrary factor. Here are some tips for formulating a dress code, which, of course, can include tattoos, piercings, hair styles and adornments:

• Start by thinking through every aspect of it to ensure a clear rationale.

• Look beyond your own preferences, and consider the overall good of the business.

• Check it against the Equality Act 2010 to ensure it doesn’t illegally discriminate!

• Consider relaxing your dress code in summer, if appropriate.

• Why not consult with employees to ensure they are comfortable with it too? It’ll help with employee engagement and contribute to a great workplace culture.

 It’s clear that the humble dress code can have a big impact on recruitment, culture and even the success of an organisation. For help getting yours right, contact The HR Dept.




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