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Archive for April 22nd, 2011

City law firm Allen & Overy allegedly told female solicitors to increase the lengths of their skirts and reduce the height of their heels or face “uncomfortable discussions” with the human resources department reports The Telegraph. The instructions were  sent by email to trainee solicitors at the firm by the trainee solicitor liaison committee.

The email allegedly said “We’ve been asked to draw your attention to the fact that HR have received numerous complaints about the way female trainees have been dressing around the office,” and went on to point out that the recipients were not going clubbing but rather they were going to work and should dress accordingly.

The news was broken by Allen & Overy insiders on the legal industry’s insider blog ‘Roll On Friday‘.

The story has a catchy headline and no doubt there will be many outraged employees who believe it is their right to wear whatever they want to work. Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but in fact, that isn’t true!

From a practical point of view, I find the dress code is a very sensitive subject for most employers who struggle to get the tone right in terms of content, implementation and finally, managing any breach of the policy. Some find it so awkward that they don’t bother with a dress code at all and would rather deal with trangressions on an ad hoc basis. Not ideal!

But while employers have a right to require employees to dress appropriately they also have a duty to keep their employees informed of their policies and procedures and I applaud the firm’s intervention at an early stage.

Better to let employees know what is expected from the start than to turn a blind eye and hope things will improve without intervention. Not every employee burns the midnight oil reading the Staff Handbook and it is totally unnecessary to resort to disciplinary action in most of these cases if HR takes an educational and informative approach.

However, if the parties do end up in court an employment tribunal is likely to want to know what action HR took to make employees aware of the policy before taking disciplinary action.

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