The Health Service Executive (H.S.E.) has set out a new Dress Code Policy for employees which as been met with some opposition from Unions and Employees alike.
As reported in media outlets such as the Irish Independent and the Irish Examiner the new policy has been deemed controversial, sexist and in some corners the H.S.E. has been labelled the “fashion police“.
However dress codes are nothing new and an employer is perfectly entitled to require their employees to wear a particular uniform, or as in this case NOT to wear certain items.
In many food preparation operations, HACCP rules and procedures govern what jewellery and items an employee may wear when handling food stuffs, so requiring that employees adhere to a specific set of criteria is not unreasonable.
The policy themes
Where an issue may exist is in relation to religious beliefs, or a medical condition which may require the wearing of a particular piece of clothing or jewellery, and so under the Employment Equality Act the Company may fall foul and breach and employees rights.
However in this situation I do not believe this to be the case, as the main themes of the policy are;
- A ban on short mini-skirts and low-cut T-shirts as well as backless tops or dress garments which reveal excessive cleavage or midriff.
- Halter-neck tops, skin-tight clothing, micro-skirts and low-cut dresses are also deemed inappropriate.
- Staff must remove artificial nails, nail jewellery, nail polish and hide any tattoos they have.
If clothing is deemed as too revealing then it is essentially on the banned list and this is what has certain groups up in arms, Mary Fogarty, INMO industrial relations officer, said nurses resented the HSE’s terminology, which she described as bizarre. She said that she has written to the HSE and have asked them to remove references to specific styles of clothing, words like skintight, and replace these references with words such as ‘comfortable’ and ‘appropriate’.
An insult to women hospital employees
These references in the HSE circular to micro-skirts, backless tops, and clothing which reveals excessive cleavage are not acceptable. She has labelled this as sexist and told the HSE that she thought it was ridiculous. She feels that the way it was worded, it was insulting to women hospital employees.
As mentioned above as employers the H.S.E are entitled to institute a standard of dress in their organisation, and have done so to ensure respect “for self and the public we serve”. Should an employee fall foul of such a policy then they would be within their right to initiate disciplinary action, however they must ensure consistency within the policy and that all employees will be subject to the same standards of dress within the business.
Unions have been vocal on this matter and in particular IMPACT have come out against the policy, however a H.S.E. spokesperson has said that they consulted with the union on this and they failed (despite two extensions) to revert back with any objections they held. IMPACT feel that the guidelines went too far and instead of tackling particular staff they had a problem with, they were insisting all staff follow the rigid rules.
It is likely to receive some more air time in coming weeks however I would imagine that the H.S.E. are in a strong position on this as the common opinion from the man on the street would be that you cannot wear what you like to work if it is deemed inappropriate, especially if these men on the street tend to work in any retail or franchise stores which dictates exactly what a person must wear in their duties. I would expect little sympathy for their plight.