Julie Dunane CG Professional

Dress Codes and Discrimination

Julie Duane, Solicitor Advocate at CG Professional.

Whilst employers may havea set dress code for the workplace, recent case law and political debate has started to highlight limitations to the standards employers can impose on its employees.  Whilst policies and procedures are a useful tool for employers to rely on in pursuit of their dress codes, this must carefully be balanced to ensure that they do not discriminate against their employees.

Although there is no obligation for men and women to have identical workwear, it is imperative that the standards which are imposed on those individuals are equal.  This means that imposing gender specific items such as manicured nails, presentation of a full face of makeup etc could be viewed as discriminatory and result in possible actions against employers. 

Recently some employers have been under scrutiny by requesting individuals to dress in a provocative manner, which could constitute harassment.  As a result, the government’s equalities office has published new guidance on dress codes and sex discrimination.  The guidance establishes that whilst dress codes can be a legitimate part of a business, employers must ensure that any policies and procedures are acceptable to both the organisation and its staff.

When preparing a dress code, employers should take the following factors into consideration:-

  1. Recommendation that employees are required to “dress smartly”.  This is because it is a reasonable expectation which does not denote any specific obligation on one sex over another. 
  2. Employers should think carefully about the reasoning behind the imposition of a particular dress code requirement, as those which can be justified are less likely to fall into the realms of discrimination and or harassment.
  3. Where the dress code is imposed for reasons of health and safety, for example personal protective equipment, this again is likely to be an acceptable requirement. 
  4. Where you are making adjustments for somebody with a disability, an adjustment could be to vary a particular dress code for that individual.
  5. For individuals that are transgender, the dress code should ensure that the policies allow them to match their gender identity.  Where there is a staff uniform, they should be provided with an option which suits their identity.
  6. In terms of religious dress codes and symbols, employers should ensure that they are flexible and not set dress codes which prohibit these symbols, if there is no interference with an employee’s work. 
  7. Although the dress code should apply to both men and women there may be different requirements if they are of a similar standard. 

If you have any questions about how to draft a dress code policy, or would like some further assistance, please do not hesitate to contact a member of the CG team who will be happy to assist.