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There has been a lot of media attention over the last couple of years on the issue of dress codes at work, ranging from female receptionists being required to wear high heels, to a claim about a Muslim head scarf ban making it all the way to the European Court of Justice in Achbita v G4S Secure Solutions.
The risk of provoking such problems begs the question, “why have a dress code?”. However, most employers simply want staff to wear a style of dress that better reflects their brand or a more professional image. Other employers may have genuine health and safety concerns that underpin their dress code.
These reasons are perfectly valid. However, the dress code needs to be fair, proportionate and relevant to the job. It must also be non-discriminatory and not unfairly impact upon one section of the workforce.
The Government’s guidance reinforces this general position. The guidance emphasises that dress codes for men and women do not need to be identical, but the standards they impose should be equivalent. It also warns that any gender-specific requirements, such as having to wear make-up, high heels or have manicured nails, are likely to be unlawful.
The guidance underlines the risk of requiring female employees to dress provocatively. Unless an equivalent standard is set for men, this is likely to be sex discrimination. Further, even if both men and women are required to dress provocatively, this could still raise the risk of harassment by colleagues or customers.
The guidance also recommends making reasonable adjustments for any disabled staff and allowing transgender staff to follow the dress code in a way that they feel matches their gender identity.
The key point for employers to remember when setting dress codes is that they must not impose different standards on different groups of their workforce without a sensible, non-discriminatory reason. To avoid unnecessary discrimination claims, employers should carefully consider the reason for the dress code and ensure that it is applied consistently to all employees, but remains flexible to accommodate individual requirements where possible.
The full government guidance can be read here.