Guidance on dress codes and sex discrimination, a guide for employers

Dress Codes

Last month the government Equalities Office published “Guidance on dress codes and sex discrimination, a guide for employers”.

It is intended for employers who issue dress codes and while many employers will simply say that their employees should portray a positive public imagine and dress smartly and in an appropriate professional manner, there may be other employers who impose particular requirements.  The requirements of a dress code imposed upon employees do not have to be identical but the standards imposed should be equivalent on both male and female.

A dress code can be a legitimate part of an employer’s terms and conditions of employment but gender specific prescriptive requirements should be avoided. In other words, it would probably be unlawful to require women to wear high heels, make up, skirts, or have manicured nails.

Similarly, employers should not hide behind Health & Safety as a reason for imposing dress code requirements.  Particularly, not only would asking a woman to wear high heeled shoes risk being unlawful on grounds of sex discrimination, but it may also pose a Health & Safety risk by making them more prone to slips and trips or injuries to the feet.  Any dress code requirements should also be amended for disabled employers as the Equality Act imposes a duty upon employers to make reasonable adjustments to disabled employees.  Similarly, dress codes should not prohibit religious symbols that do not interfere with an employee’s work.

The guidance also provides a reminder that any members of staff who complain that a dress code is discriminatory or subjects them to harassment and is thus dismissed without any valid reason given, may have a claim for unlawful victimisation against the employer.

The key point of all this is that dress codes should be based upon what is reasonably required for occupational purposes and not on stereotypical views of “what looks good”.