What is workwear?
Workwear refers to clothes worn by staff members while at work. Typically, workwear either means staff uniforms or heavy-duty clothing worn to provide protection while working (ie personal protective equipment).
Workwear is a common thing to find in many workplaces and can take many different forms, from staff uniforms (eg in the form of polo shirts) to sportswear, tabards, high-visibility vests, and heavy-duty workwear.
Who is responsible for a business uniform?
The decision to have a uniform in a workplace is usually made to provide unity and equality among staff. Having uniforms helps everyone to feel part of the business and to feel that everyone is on the same level, promoting respect towards others. It can have an impact on productivity and staff engagement. However, there is no legal obligation for an employer to pay for uniforms.
It is unusual for an employer not to provide at least some sets of uniforms if they require staff members to wear one, depending on the number of hours staff are required to work. However, they may ask for a contribution if a staff member wants more than the allocated amount. Employers need to be careful that making deductions from wages to pay for uniforms does not cause anyone’s wage to dip below the minimum wage, as they will then be breaking the law.
What is personal protective equipment?
No business has to have a uniform, but many do. However, whilst branded t-shirts and hats might be a good marketing tool, there are certain items of clothing that are legally required from a health and safety perspective. This is known as personal protective equipment (PPE).
Do employers need to provide PPE?
All staff members should be kept safe whenever they are in the workplace, and that means that any necessary protective items need to be provided by the employer.
This refers to safety equipment, but also clothing, so it is important to make sure that all staff have the clothing that they need to do their job safely. If any PPE is considered essential to protect them from hazardous materials, it is the responsibility of the employer to ensure that this is available to the staff who need it. This might include gloves, goggles, face masks, earmuffs, and helmets.
Employers cannot charge employees for PPE, but they do have the right to ask for it back when the employment contract ends (eg because a staff member resigns or is dismissed). If it is not returned, employers may deduct the cost from any outstanding wages, but only if this is allowed in the contract of employment.
What is a dress code?
A dress code is a set of rules that sets out how members of staff should dress at work. This can include prescribing certain workwear while at work or for certain activities and prohibiting certain items of clothes or jewellery.
Workplaces may introduce dress codes for various reasons, including:
to communicate a corporate image
to ensure that customers can easily identify staff members
for health and safety reasons
Employers must take care not to discriminate when adopting a dress code (more on this below).
Caring for workwear
Whether a staff member has paid for their uniform or not, it is their responsibility to ensure that it is clean and in good order. This means that they will be required to wash it and, in some cases, repair it, but they can claim tax relief for doing so.
Whilst there is some clothing that an employer is legally required to provide, the other aspects of a uniform are discretionary. However, it is worth remembering that if a staff member is required to pay for the privilege to come to work, they may reconsider working for the business, which will significantly narrow the pool of talent available to recruit.
By providing at least some sets of any uniform that needs to be worn, an employer can show that they care about their employees and can eliminate any excuses as to why someone might not be keeping up to the standards that they expect.
How to avoid discrimination in relation to workwear
The Equality Act 2010 sets out certain protected characteristics (eg sex, race, disability and religion). Staff members are protected from less favourable treatment (eg from their employer or colleagues) based on these characteristics.
When setting out a dress code and deciding on which workwear to issue or require, employers must make sure not to unlawfully discriminate against anyone. This includes by:
ensuring dress code/workwear requirements apply to men and women equally (although they may have different requirements)
allowing staff members to express their faith through their clothing or jewellery (unless employers have a good reason for doing so, eg if wearing jewellery would cause a health and safety risk)
As a general rule, employers should avoid gender-specific prescriptive requirements (eg requiring women to wear high heels, makeup, or certain hairstyles).
For more information, read Equal opportunities and discrimination.
Ask a lawyer for any questions about providing staff with uniforms or other workwear. Any employer that wishes to require a workplace dress code should consider adopting a clear dress code policy. Consider using our Bespoke drafting service if you require such a policy.