Work Uniforms: Employer's Guide

By Amanda Beattie
04 Aug 2023

There are many reasons to implement a dress code at work.

You may need to do it for the safety of your staff, or to uphold a professional company profile. Other uniforms are simply appropriate for certain work environments.

But despite these possibilities, you may find employees refusing to wear their uniform or causing other issues.

For this reason, we’ll take a look at some of the most common problems you might face when it comes to staff dress codes.

But first, let’s determine what you can legally expect from your employees.

Workers uniforms handing on hooks in the workplace

What are dress regulations?

In simple terms, a dress code is a company policy that states what attire employees should wear while working.

You can implement a dress code for health & safety reasons. Examples include:

  • Tying back hair.
  • Wearing a hairnet in the kitchen.
  • Not wearing jewellery around medical patients.
  • Wearing protective clothing around hazardous substances.

You can also implement rules simply to communicate a corporate image. Or to make sure clients can easily identify staff by their workplace uniform.

Are there work uniform laws?

There’s no law that requires you to have a dress code at work.

But there are laws that dictate what you can and can’t include in your uniform policy.

Your dress code must not discriminate based on the nine protected characteristics outlined in the Equality Act 2010.

In the same vein, your dress code must apply to men and women equally, even if they have different requirements.

Finally, make reasonable adjustments in your dress code for staff members with a disability.

Your legal obligations

There’s no legal obligation for you to pay for your employees’ uniforms, with the exception of PPE.

You don’t have permission to charge any employee for PPE. And when their employment terminates, they should return the clothes.

If they keep any PPE without your consent you can deduct the costs of a replacement from wages owed if this is explicitly stated in the contract of employment.

But if you intend to make employees’ pay for their uniform, you must include a provision that says this in their contract.

It’s usually worth providing a couple of sets of the uniform for free, and ask staff to pay for any additional sets. But you can also set an allowance for members of staff so they can pay for their uniform.

By asking employees to pay, the uniform then becomes their property—this means they get to take it home with them, if they want.

So you should be careful when asking employees to pay (or, crucially, making deductions from pay) for their uniforms. It’s especially important if you’re paying the individuals minimum wage.

Why? If the cost of the uniform causes their pay to dip below the National Minimum Wage, you’ll be breaking the law. This was the case for many businesses who were ‘named and shamed’ in 2018.

Employees claiming tax relief

You may find some of your employees asking if there’s an HMRC clothing allowance that applies to work uniform.

You can tell them they can claim tax relief on the cost of cleaning, repairing, or replacing specialist clothing needed to perform their job role. But not on the initial cost of buying it.

For more information on this, you can direct them to the following government portal: claim tax relief for your job expenses.

Dealing with staff complaints

Occasionally, you may find some of your employees have an issue with your dress codes. Here are some of the most common questions you can expect:

  • “Can I refuse to wear my work uniform?”: If the policy is set out clearly in their employment contract and doesn’t discriminate against them on any protected characteristic (and they have no medical grounds for refusing to wear it) then they can’t.
  • “My uniform is expensive to maintain, how can I afford it?”: You can offer them an allowance (or at least one free set to get them started). You should also provide them with the most practical solution—not a cheap, corner-cutting uniform.

It’s also in your interest to help the staff member with the maintenance of equipment and work wear.

But if they’re really struggling, you can claim tax relief on repairing and replacing work uniforms.

Need our fashion advice?

If you’re struggling with a uniform issue in your business, we’ll make sure all of your employees are satisfied with your dress code. Get in touch today: 01455 858 132.

About the Author

Amanda Beattie

Amanda represents corporate clients and large public bodies, including complex discrimination and whistleblowing claims. Amanda also drafts and delivers bespoke training regarding all aspects of employment law, including ‘mock tribunal’ events; in addition she also frequently drafts employment law articles for various publications for Croner and their clients.

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