Can we force our employees to wear uniforms?

Uniforms are an equaliser and can be used effectively in many different settings.

It could be to help customers easily identify staff members in a shop. Or doing a bit of marketing by walking around a busy exhibition wearing a branded t-shirt. Or perhaps it’s for a gardening, cleaning or painting job, where employees would otherwise get messy and potentially damage their own clothes. Then there’s the health and safety element. Building sites often insist on high-vis, hard hat, visors and steel toe cap boots before anyone is allowed in the vicinity, and if that’s the uniform policy, there should be signage, warnings, and disciplinary action for those who don’t comply.

Some companies will say we don’t mind what you wear to work as long as it’s black, or we’ll give you a top but wear your own jeans or trousers with it. Sometimes the only uniform requirement is to wear a colour-coded lanyard. These were used by many schools when they returned after the first Covid-19 lockdown to ensure each ‘bubble’ kept within a particular area, but they can also be branded and hold company ID cards.

Whichever route you’re thinking of going, the best way to secure employee buy-in is to involve them as early as possible in the process. Explain that you’d like to introduce a uniform and the reasons why. Consult on colours and styles, establishing whether the majority would be happy to wear them. Don’t just automatically go for your corporate colour, especially if it’s very bright. Perhaps choose a neutral grey or black instead and include it as an accent colour.

You also need to think about the practicalities. Will you require employees to pay towards their uniform? How many, say, tops will you give each employee – at least two so they can wash one and wear one? Will you provide swift replacements for old, worn out or damaged uniforms? You could also consider allowing a few choices within the overall uniform offer perhaps, so the overall uniform look can be maintained but with a small element of individuality brought in. And of course make sure it’s inclusive. A good uniform policy needs to take into account any religion, maternity and gender considerations. Then once all the elements have been determined, the new policy can be documented and rolled out.

So your uniform policy is unlikely to be an off the shelf, one size fits all solution. It has to be customised to your specific business and working environment. It’s also important to review it on a regular basis to make sure it’s still relevant and everyone is clear. Remember a uniform policy is likely to fail if it’s not properly enforced. Employees will quickly lose commitment if they have reason to believe compliance is not essential.