A British Airways worker made the news last week after his employment was terminated because he had a ‘man bun’. He argued it was discrimination because females were allowed to wear their hair in that style, and yet because he was a male, he wasn’t.
While the jury is still out on who will win this one, it does raise a good point about company dress codes, and the right way to enforce them.
A company is absolutely entitled to have a dress code to reflect the type and status of the business, but it must be reasonable in the context of the company’s business – you can’t really prevent someone having a specific hair style for no justifiable reason.
However, if you have a high level of professionalism that your customers, clients etc expect you to uphold, you may be able to justifiable restrict certain ways of dressing. Either way, any dress code policy you have, must be applied consistently across the organisation so it is not discriminatory.
Many years ago, getting this wrong cost Ray White Real Estate in Feilding $18,000 after a former Property Manager was suspended for having pink hair, which led to her resignation and subsequent claim for constructive dismissal.
In this particular case, the financial penalty really came about from poor process and the company’s decision to suspend without consultation (which is a blog post for another day!), but it still enforces the need to act fairly with regards to dress code.
Step #1 is really to make sure you have some reference to how you wish employee’s to present themselves in your company policies or employment agreement. This provides the basis for any future discussions.
And while they may be a tad awkward, we do recommend you attempt to manage any dress code issues on an informal basis in the first instance, through a discrete discussion with the employee directly.
If this doesn’t have the desired effect, and your explicit instructions about the expected standard of dress are not complied with, then the next avenue is the disciplinary way.
Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that!