There are a number of reasons why an employer may deem a uniform to be suitable. These can include upholding an appropriate company image, making employees easily identifiable and to prevent employees’ own clothes from getting damaged or for health and safety reasons.
Precautionary requirements can often be found in a dress code policy for plumbing and heating contractors to reduce risk and ensure safety. Precautions can include tying back hair, not wearing jewellery, such as a wedding ring, and wearing protective clothing such as work boots, kneepads, goggles, high visibility jackets, and more.
There is no law which requires employers to have a dress code, but there are laws to dictate what employers can and cannot include in a policy. A policy must not discriminate based on the nine protected characteristics outlined in the Equality Act 2010. A dress code must apply to men and women equally, even if they have different requirements, and employers should make reasonable adjustments for employees with a disability.
With the exception of Personal Protective Equipment, there is no legal obligation for an employer to pay for uniforms. Usually, however, employers will provide a couple of sets of uniform, and ask employees to pay for any additional sets. Employers can also set an allowance for employees so they can pay for their uniforms. Special care needs to be taken when asking employees to pay for their uniforms or when making deductions from employees pay, as if the cost of the uniform causes employees’ pay to dip below the National Minimum Wage, employers will be breaking the law.
Where Personal Protective Equipment is required, employers don’t have permission to charge any employee for the equipment, and when employment terminates, the employee should return the clothing. At this point, if the protective clothing is not returned without the employer’s consent, the cost of replacing the protective clothing can be deducted from wages owed, however this needs to be explicitly stated in the company’s contract of employment
Finally, it’s worth pointing out that employees cam claim tax relief on the cost of cleaning, repairing or replacing specialist clothing required for their roles, but not the initial cost of buying it.
For formal guidance on company dress code requirements, employers should seek advice from an employment law adviser. APHC members can access free legal advice via the APHC legal helpline.