What you need to consider
Most uniform policies enable the employer to set the required uniform standards during working hours, although one issue which still causes concern relates to wearing a uniform outside work, particularly when you have both medically qualified and clerical employees in uniform.
We’ve listed some of the things you must take into consideration when drafting or renewing your uniform policy.
(1) Is a “ban” on wearing uniform outside work necessary and reasonable?
All HR policies must be reasonable so if you intend to impose a policy of not wearing uniform outside work you should be prepared to give your reasons why.
The first and obvious issue is one of the spread of infection. Irrespective of any actual research and expert opinion which may say the contrary, patients and other members of the public may perceive that, for example, a nurse who may deal with infectious diseases will pose a significant hazard in terms of spreading infection.
Uniform helps to distinguish your role and the organisation you work with so you also need to consider protecting both the practice and the individual employee. Whilst there will always be counter arguments relating to recognition, a nurse dealing with smoking cessation clinics who smokes during an after working hours drink and is still wearing uniform, may lose personal credibility as well as potentially damaging the reputation of the practice.. Likewise, a clerical member of staff who goes out for a meal straight after work may find themselves approached by patients and this could ultimately lead to a breach of confidentiality.
(2) What happens travelling to work?
Your policy needs to be clear about travelling to and from work. Even if your policy “bans” wearing uniform whilst travelling to and from work, you will need to enable an employee to wear their uniform where it is unavoidable to do so, but perhaps on the condition that they wear an outer garment which covers the uniform so that it is not visible.
However, you’ll also need to think about employees who travel as part of their role, for example district nurses. What happens, for example, when they travel from home to their first appointment of the day?
You’ll also need to consider whether employees are allowed “changing time” or – for example if work starts at 8am does that mean the employee should be ready in their uniform at 8am or be ready dressed by 8.10am?
(3) What is a uniform?
Whilst a uniform obviously includes tunics, trousers etc, what about badges, lanyards and other forms of identity? At a time when safety has to be paramount, your policy should consider whether forms of identity should be included if, for example, you wish to impose a “ban” on wearing a uniform outside work.
(4) Smoking whilst in uniform?
A policy clause “banning” smoking whilst in uniform may not yet be unlawful, particularly if it is in line with the ban on smoking in public places. However, “Unison” have expressed concern that this may force employees to smoke in secret in areas where there may be many combustible materials and which may “have no provision for waste ash and used cigarettes” so these are other considerations for your policy.
(5) Ensure that your policy complies with legislation
Legislation like the Equality Act 2010, together with case law, has meant that employers have to be more aware of openly acknowledging the diversity of employees and adopting a sensitive approach to uniform requirements.
Whilst you may wish to impose a “ban” on wearing uniform outside work, your policy will need to include a section on making a request which deviates from any uniform standard/policy and how that request will be dealt with to ensure a fair decision making process.
Finally, don’t forget that with any HR policy, actively seeking out the opinions of employees will be invaluable.