Our reader this week is angry with her employer, who appears to accept his new receptionist’s casual work attire, but expects all other employees to abide by his “unfashionable” dress code rules.
The disgruntled employee has worked for the company for almost 10 years and complains that the style of staff uniforms has barely changed.
However, the receptionist, who joined the company a month ago, wears “very casual clothing” with “plunging necklines”.
Though proud to wear the uniform of a highly regarded organisation, our reader and her colleagues feel short-changed, since their outfits are old-fashioned. They cannot understand why the receptionist is free to choose her own clothes and also feel that her choices are inappropriate for a professional environment.
She addressed the matter with her boss, but he said that he accepted the way his new employee dresses and that she cannot be judged for her style and culture.
I personally feel that there is no place for “style and culture” in the work place. If this was the case, employers would have to make provision for company policies to cater for dozens of cultures in our country.
Generally, employers are entitled to – certainly not prohibited from – introducing company policy on clothing and grooming.
However, employees should be informed of these requirements at the interview stage – and the employee should agree in writing that the dress code is accepted, that there are no objections to it on any grounds and that the code will be complied with should the application be successful.
Reasons for a company dress code include identification of the company in public places, projecting a certain corporate image both in and outside the workplace, uniformity of appearance, and so on.
A dress code might also contain special provisions in respect of the personal safety of the employee – for example, very long hair or long beards might be prohibited on safety grounds.
Our courts have recognised that “the appearance of a company’s employees may greatly contribute to the company’s success with the public, and a reasonable dress or grooming code is therefore a proper management prerogative”.
Such codes would only be considered to be discriminatory if the employer imposes dress or grooming codes on one group of employees only, or imposes more strict and rigid requirements on one group only – such as requiring only female employees to wear a uniform.
However, the operational requirements of the business would play a big part in such decisions. Different dress requirements for female and male employees performing the same functions would – usually but not always – be seen as discriminatory.
Whatever the case, make sure your dress and grooming code is reasonable, fair, lawful and non-discriminatory.
In our reader’s case, I suggest that she point to the dress code requirements set out in her letter of appointment and ask her employer if he felt it was fair that everyone else had to adhere to these and yet the new lady, who is the “face” of the company, is exempt.
If her boss is unhelpful, the reader may consider approaching her new colleague directly, letting her know that co-workers are unhappy and suggesting more appropriate attire – all without offending her, of course.
Send your labour and injury on duty questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Booysen & Rossouw Attorneys in Port Elizabeth specialises in labour related legislation. The firm also covers injury on duty cases as well as all other aspects of the law.
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