Looking good for work shouldn’t cost you your job

Dressing and presenting yourself appropriately for work is not a choice, it’s a legal obligation. But what must an employee do to meet appropriate dress and presentation standards for work?

Minimum standards under the law are quite specific. However, the policies and procedures commonly imposed by retailers can be inconsistent with the applicable legal obligations.

Every retailer has different approaches to their dress and presentation codes depending on the products they sell and their customer base. However, dress policies must be consistent with minimum legal obligations.

The SDA is aware of retailers directing their employees to purchase clothing and / or accessories that the employer sells to wear to work to promote the retailer’s range and ‘look’.

If an employer requires any special clothing to be worn by employees they must cover the cost unless otherwise stated in an industrial agreement, such as an Award or Enterprise Agreement.


Requirements under an Enterprise Agreement

Many employees are covered by Enterprise Agreements that outline dress and presentation standards with which employees must comply.

Many Agreements contain words to the effect of, “an employee’s presentation, grooming and dress shall be in a neat, tidy and business-like manner at all times”. While legally enforceable, provisions such as these do not require you to purchase and wear your employer’s items.

In most cases, unless the Company provides the uniform and covers the full cost of the items, the uniform is considered ‘preferred dress’, which is not compulsory.

You should also note most Awards and, less commonly Agreements, require that the employer launders uniform items (i.e. compulsory attire) or pays an allowance for the laundry of such items.

You should always check your Enterprise Agreement for Dress/Presentation Standards to be sure of your rights and obligations.


Requirements under the Fair Work Act

The Fair Work Act 2009 also prohibits employers from directly or indirectly requiring an employee to spend any part of an amount payable to them in relation to the performance of work if the requirement is unreasonable in the circumstances.


Fair Work Ombudsman Rulings

An employer’s policies and procedures cannot undercut your minimum industrial rights under your Award or Agreement.

Over the past few years the Fair Work Ombudsman has investigated complaints from retail workers who were required to pay for and wear company clothing, e.g. current fashion items to promote current stock on the shop floor under the retailers’ dress policies. Where it was found that employees paid for, and wore, clothing from the shop floor - even where those items were heavily discounted - retailers were required to reimburse their employees for that cost as these policies were less favourable than the employee’s minimum rights under their Industrial Instrument, in this case, their Award.


Your rights

Employees cannot be required by their employer to use their wages to pay for these items, if the requirement is ‘unreasonable’.

Taking money from an employee’s pay to cover for so-called ‘uniform’ purchases is also generally prohibited and is regarded as a ‘deduction’.

Offering discounts on current fashion and stock items to employees is encouraged as it provides employees with a real benefit in conjunction with their employment, but this practice crosses a line where the discount is offered in conjunction with a direction or requirement under policy that such items are to be worn at work.

Employers may only deduct money from an employee’s wages if:

  • the employee agrees in writing and it’s principally for their benefit;
  • it’s allowed by a law, a court order, or by the Fair Work Commission; or 
  • it’s allowed under the employee’s Award or Enterprise Agreement. 

 Additionally, if there is an agreement from an employee then their written agreement must be genuine. They cannot be coerced to agree to a deduction.


Further information

If you have any concerns about uniform or dress standards in your workplace or you require assistance regarding any other employment related matter, speak to your SDA union delegate, union organiser or call the SDA’s helpline on 1300 SDA HELP (1300 732 4357).






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