In today’s workplace, casual wear is becoming increasingly popular and it can be difficult to understand the rules of appearance. Dress codes in the workplace are not uncommon and employment laws are pretty vague on the subject.

Lately, a large number of legal cases have been highlighted in the media relating to dress and appearance. Reservations amongst employers about what dress code is acceptable have led to Acas publishing a full dress code guide for employers.

Discrimination claims can stem from employee dress code policies, and employers must be able to justify their reasons for prohibiting certain articles of clothing or jewellery. Otherwise, they could face a claim for indirect discrimination. Discrimination claims can relate to sex or gender, religion, or race. Although employers will probably have a dress policy addressing all these things, it is important to get legal advice just to make sure you adhere to the law.

Dress Code Discrimination

The most recently publicised cases of dress code discrimination related to a London receptionist who was sent home from work after refusing to wear high heels; and a waitress whose post on social media went viral after sharing photos of her bleeding feet after being forced to wear high heels at work.

A petition “Make it illegal for a company to require women to wear high heels at work” calling for the law to be changed has been signed by more than 151,000 people and is now awaiting debate by the government. The government have responded by stating “Company dress codes must be reasonable and must make equivalent requirements for men and women. This is the law and employers must abide by it.”

Last month, Acas published research which revealed that “Employers are at risk of losing talented young employees due to their concerns about employing people with visible tattoos”. Negative attitudes from managers and employees were shown to influence the outcome of recruitment exercises and concerns were raised about visible tattoos in relation to perceived negative attitudes of potential clients or customers.

Acas Head of Equality, Stephen Williams, said: “Businesses are perfectly within their rights to have rules around appearance at work, but these rules should be based on the law where appropriate, and the needs of the business, not managers’ personal preferences”.

Tips for drafting a workplace dress code:

  • Always avoid any form of discrimination. Employers will need to justify the reasons for banning items and should ensure they are not indirectly discriminating against certain groups of employees in respect of the protected characteristics in the Equality Act 2010 for age, disability, gender reassignment, religion or belief, sex, or sexual orientation.
  • Imposing specific standards of dress for health and safety reasons is acceptable.
  • Dress codes should be applied equally to men and women.
  • Reasonable adjustments are made for disabled employees.

By Ros Hammond, Employment Law in Action Ltd

About the author: Employment Law in Action Ltd is a successful partnership of HR professionals and legal advisers supporting HR teams and business managers in the UK. With a wealth of knowledge and experience, their advisers are able to provide support and resolution to issues affecting you and your employees. They can draft bespoke contracts that meet clients’ specific needs, whilst ensuring they comply with all legislative requirements.