Staffing specialist Victoria Vilas shares advice on how to create and implement a fair and appropriate dress code policy in a medical aesthetic clinic
In a medical environment, it is necessary to implement a dress code policy so that employees meet health and safety requirements and appear professional to patients. Medical professionals working in a clinical setting need to wear attire that helps minimise the risk of cross-infection and accidents. The same health and safety requirements will still apply to practising clinicians, but a private clinic offering a discreet, high-quality service will also need all customer-facing personnel to reflect the first-class standard of customer service in their appearance.
The aesthetic medicine specialty is concerned with the improvement of a patient’s appearance and with increasing a patient’s contentment with their own image. All businesses need their customer-facing employees to represent and promote the company’s core values. In an aesthetic clinic where the guiding principles are to deliver treatments to help patients look and feel better via a fresh, polished yet natural look, patient-facing employees may be expected to reflect those brand values in their own appearance.
Implementing a detailed dress code policy in the workplace is perfectly acceptable, as long as the rules you set are reasonable, practical and do not cross into what could be considered discrimination.
Dress code policies can cover much more than clothing or uniform. Hair styles, makeup, jewellery, footwear, facial hair, tattoos and piercings, standards of cleanliness, smartness and more can be covered to ensure that staff members fully understand how they should present themselves in the workplace.
It is a good idea to record your policies in written format, instead of giving verbal instructions, as employees will then have something to refer to if they are ever in any doubt about what is acceptable. Make clear what is expected of every member of the team, differentiating between patient-facing staff members and practitioners, for example. A dress code policy should also explain what the consequences will be if an employee breaks the rules you set, explained in more detail below.
When drafting your requirements, be careful not to create rules that are too vague, as they could be misinterpreted by your team members. What is seen as ‘smart’ or ‘casual’ or ‘discreet’ may be subject to interpretation, so be specific and give examples if that helps to make your requirements clearer. For example, if you wish your employees to only wear earrings that are ‘discreet’, perhaps state that small, simple stud earrings are acceptable, and large statement earrings are not.
The dress code for your clinic needs to be practical, in that your requirements should be fitting with the duties your employees undertake. Aesthetic therapists performing body treatments will need to wear clothing that does not restrict their movement, and footwear that allows them to be steady on their feet. Team members who are standing for the majority of their working day should be allowed to wear footwear that is comfortable, otherwise they could begin to develop aches and pains that could affect their wellbeing and their performance. This is not to suggest that patient-facing employees should be allowed to wear trainers, but there are plenty of options for smart footwear other than towering, toe-pinching high heels.
Your dress code policy also needs to be accessible to employees if you are not supplying them a uniform, including requests that are easily achievable. It is not fair to include items that are too expensive for an average employee’s budget or too hard to find. For example, it may be easy to find suitably smart work clothing in black or grey, but to state that your employees must wear clothing only in a specific shade of green that matches your clinic logo may be asking the impossible.
Seasonal clothing: Though you may ensure that your clinic interior remains at a comfortable temperature year-round, people generally opt for clothing that is fitting with the season, so consider this when drafting your dress code. For example, if you do not want your employees to wear strappy tops in summer, include this in your policy.
Health and safety concerns: Those who perform treatments or are present in a treatment room to assist or chaperone will need to follow guidelines for cleanliness, hygiene and safety. For example, you could state that every person present during a treatment must remove rings before sanitising their hands, to avoid the risk of cross-infection from microorganisms trapped under jewellery.
Uniform: If you provide a uniform for your team, ensure you provide garments of the right size and condition. Employees may need to be responsible for their own laundry, but they may not have the skills to alter or fix clothing. If you do not provide a uniform for all team members, make clear what clothing is acceptable. For example, instead of saying that you would like your patient coordinators to wear ‘business attire’, specify that they should wear a black, grey or navy skirt or trousers with a neutral-coloured shirt or blouse. While it is legally acceptable for an employer to ask their employees to pay for their own work attire, you must ensure that any uniform cost deducted from a worker’s pay does not take their remuneration below the National Minimum Wage or National Living Wage.1
Hair, nails, makeup: in terms of beauty looks and fashion trends, what is popular and acceptable on the high street may not be the look you want your clinic employees to have. For example, pastel-coloured hair and creative nail art may be seen as fashionable, but they are not always likely to be seen as professional. Though it would be unreasonable to expect staff members to have a specific haircut, it is reasonable to ask your team to avoid extreme fashion styles. These rules can apply to male staff members too, as it is reasonable to require men to keep their facial hair neat and tidy.
Cleanliness and smartness: When drafting what employees should wear, consider including rules on how they should wear those items. It may be common sense that work attire should be immaculately clean, crisp and neat, but it is worth reaffirming that if clothing is not presentable, employees may be asked to change.
The Equality Act 20102 is legislation that protects certain groups of people from discrimination in the workplace and in society, with ‘protected characteristics’ including gender, disability, religion and more.2 Your workplace dress code must not be discriminatory in respect of the protected characteristics, so should only include rules that apply to both men and women and include reasonable concessions for those with religious beliefs and the disabled. For example, in 2017, corporate reception firm Portico changed their dress code policy after an employee brought to public attention how she was sent home from work on no pay for contravening a dress code policy that was clearly gender-biased. The company subsequently removed clauses from their policy that insisted on female employees wearing high heels and make-up at all times.3
In 2013 the European Court of Human Rights ruled that a British Airways employee suffered discrimination at work over her Christian beliefs after she was asked to remove a crucifix necklace, which was not seen to interfere with her work duties.4
In an aesthetic clinic, the majority of your employees may be female, but you should still create a dress code that is not overtly discriminatory to either gender. Sometimes there are differences that should be recognised, though. For example, it could be seen as discriminatory to insist that female employees wear a short, tight skirt while male employees can wear comfortable trousers, but your policy can include a clause on acceptable makeup, even if it does not apply to male employees. It is not considered discriminatory for an employer to ask an employee to cover tattoos or remove piercing jewellery when at work. Tattoos or body art are not included in the Equality Act 2010 as a ‘protected characteristic’.2
When you recruit new team members, don’t assume they will know what you expect in terms of appearance. Make your dress code policy clear before their first day so they can start on the right note.
You may think it obvious that a certain standard is expected across the aesthetics industry, but a previous employer may have had slightly different rules in place. Define what you expect of your clinic team and communicate it to them clearly. Explain the reasons for setting the policy, why certain rules are non-negotiable, and what the consequences will be if the rules are broken.
For example, you could state that if an employee arrives at work wearing unsuitable attire, they will be sent home to change. If you notice an employee flouting the rules, remind them of your policies as soon as possible, so it doesn’t appear to others that you have relaxed the rules and allowed a change to your dress code. Speak to your employee in private, or send a confidential email, so as not to risk embarrassing your team member. If you wish to give an employee an official warning, ensure you put it in writing, so it is formalised, and can be recorded and filed. The consequences of contravening a dress code policy can be the same as breaking any other rule set in an employee’s contract. So, an employee could be given an informal warning, followed by a formal warning, and ultimately, an employee could be dismissed if they continued to flout the rules stated in their contract.
If an employee is pregnant or perhaps has an injury, they may need to make changes to their working uniform to make it comfortable.5,6 If an employee needs to make a change to their workwear, they should seek approval first, so add a clause to your policy to advise staff that they should put their request to a manager before going ahead and making a change to their work attire.
If you make your rules reasonable and attainable for employees, and you communicate your desired dress code clearly, employees should have no major issue adhering to your policy. Having a clear policy in place should also help you appear consistent and objective if you do ever need to take disciplinary action against an employee who refuses to toe the line.
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