• Nicki

Are dress codes extinct?

When I first started working as a teen, I was working in positions that required uniforms. The delicatessen at Coles, the layby counter at Big W, an after school care service...... I didn't need to think about what to wear to work, nor had I really developed my own independent view of personal style or branding.

As I grew older, maintaining my personal identity and sense of individuality became more important to me, and many of the professional roles I worked in required adherence to a strict dress code. This always perplexed me, as I was rarely customer-facing, and a professional business dress code was really overkill for the office work I was doing.

As I moved into senior roles, I decided to challenge the traditional notion of the dress code. I began asking questions about why certain items of clothing were prohibited in favour of something far more uncomfortable or movement-prohibitive. The more questions I asked, the more I realised that most dress codes are developed from a traditional, 'I've always done things this way' type of approach.

In 2021 in Australia, discriminatory dress codes remain common in workplaces. Virgin Australia International Airlines Pty Ltd T/A Virgin Australia v Taleski [2013] FWCFB 4191 (24 July 2013) details a case where a male flight attendant was terminated for breach of the company dress code 'the Look Book' when his hair grew longer than the 4cm limit. The employee provided evidence that this was due to both religious and medical reasons, and was able to provide evidence, however soon found his employment terminated. The Commissioner found in the employees favour and ruled for reinstatement. Virgin appealed, but lost.

So should Dress Code's even exist? We think they should, on the proviso that they are reasonable, non-discriminatory and clear.

Are you an employer with Dress Code headaches? The best path forward is to approach the subject pragmatically, and really consider whether your expectations are necessary for the safe and successful running of your business, or simply because things have always been done that way. Some of the best candidates out there don't necessarily fit a cookie-cutter image of what someone in their career would look or dress like, and keeping an open mind is critical.

Still need help, or have an issue that is becoming a problem? Give us a call and we will guide you through these murky waters...

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