Home Affairs Department moves to ban sleeveless clothing – even on Zoom

Govt dept slammed over ‘ridiculous’ proposed dress code policy

Home Affairs Department moves to ban sleeveless clothing – even on Zoom

A new dress code proposed by the Department of Home Affairs will ban staff from wearing sleeveless clothing, even on video calls. However, the Fair Work Commission has ruled the department must consult with staff before imposing new policies, after a legal challenge by the Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU).

The new dresscode released in February this year outlines example of “unsuitable” business attire for the department’s 14,000 staff, including jeans, polo shirts, sleeveless tops, dresses or blouses. Casual footwear like sneakers and Uggs are also a no-go.

The approved list includes business shirts with buttons and collar, “dress style” blouses and tops, and dress shoes. Only on nominated casual dress days will staff be allowed to bare their arms in a sleeveless top.

"The appearance of both our uniformed and non-uniformed officers is the first impression of the department and forms a lasting impression on the public," the document states.

"Staff working from home should display a neat and tidy appearance. If required to attend a meeting in person or virtually with external parties the business professional attire standard applies."

Read more: Dress codes: Why HR has to get it right

The dispute before Fair Work was over a number of policies which had been varied or brought in without consultation, including the Social Media Policy and its Best Practice for Interacting with Children Procedural Instruction.

In its ruling, the Fair Work Commission was asked to determine the scope of policy changes or amendments which require consultation with employees. Under clause 1.7 of the workplace determination which came into effect in February 2019, if the Secretary wishes to introduce a new policy, procedure or guideline or vary an existing policy, procedure or  guideline they must provide employees no less than 2 weeks to comment.

The union argued the department’s proposed interpretation of clause 1.7 was inconsistent with the natural meaning of the words and that all policy, procedure or guidelines changes should be consulted with staff.

The department argued that consulting with the entire workforce over each policy or guideline change would be overly time-consuming and impede on the department’s ability to function. However, the union said employees would most likely only wish to comment on policy changes which would affect them.

Read more: Why lenient employee dress-codes make perfect business sense

Making its conclusion, Fair Work sided with the union, saying clause 1.7 includes policies, procedures and guidelines that are likely to impact upon employees in their employment.

Brooke Muscat, CPSU Deputy National President, said the consultation process facilitates the development of stronger, more meaningful policies and procedures through the input of staff who have detailed operational knowledge and experience.

“Our members are disappointed and frustrated that it has taken almost a year of trying to talk sense to the department, a finally a decision of the FWC for Home Affairs to consult about changes in policies and procedures,” she told HRD.

“Polices such as dealing with vulnerable children should absolutely be a matter of consultation, it will only strengthen the final product based on the wealth of practical experience our members have. It will also avoid ridiculous policy changes like adding sleeveless dresses and blouses as inappropriate work attire.”

In a statement provided to HRD, the Home Affairs Department said it is considering Fair Work’s decision.

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