Can you discipline someone for being disheveled?

An employee turns up looking the worse for wear, but is not in a client-facing role. What can HR do?

Can you discipline someone for being disheveled?

It’s a tricky situation if an employee turns up to work looking dishevelled and is not in a client-facing role.

What can the employer do? Is discipline a reasonable option?

A good starting point is for HR to set the standards for the workplace, and to require employees to meet those standards, according to Hamish Kynaston, partner at Buddle Findlay.

“If the employee is looking dishevelled by personal choice then the employer could ultimately discipline them for not meeting the clear and set standards in the workplace,” said Kynaston.

“We will put to one side any health reasons for that, as long as it’s just their personal choice that’s dictating why they are dishevelled.

“It’s important to check that you have communicated those standards and have given the employee an opportunity to reach those standards?”

Kynaston added that it’s critical to talk to them about why they are not meeting that standard and provide the support if need be.

For example, it might be a financial thing, it might be a personal hygiene thing or it might be a health issue.

“But if you have done all those things and you go through a fair process, tell the employee: ‘We have done everything we can to help you meet the standards and you are not meeting that’.

If the employee is not able to do that, the employer is likely to issue a warning and then discipline is likely to be the best option.

HRD previously reported that there are several ways employers can handle that difficult conversation with the worker, according to Donna Flagg, author of Surviving Dreaded Conversations: How to Talk Through Any Difficult Situation at Work Definitely.

Flagg said you’re probably going to feel uncomfortable having the conversation but it might do you both good to pretend you’re not. “Don’t make it a big deal.” said Flagg, “It’s only as big as you make it.”

If you can give the impression that the conversation isn’t awkward or uncomfortable, the employee is likely to feel significantly less embarrassed and won’t assume everyone has noticed. It makes hearing the unwelcome news a whole lot easier.

Moreover, talking to employees about a hygiene problem might seem daunting but in the grand scheme of things it’s just a minor blip. Keep that in mind and remember that the outcome is of benefit to everyone – no matter how uncomfortable the brief conversation might be.

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