Creating a fairer Britain
Your employer must avoid unlawful discrimination in requiring you and other workers to dress or modify your personal appearance in a particular way.
Use the information earlier in the guide to make sure you know what equality law says your employer must do to avoid unlawful discrimination.
This does not stop an employer having a dress code, but they must be careful that any dress code and the way it is applied does not either:
Restrictions on dress, including hairstyles, could be justifiable for health and safety reasons or for other reasons that relate to your employer’s ethos.
There are a number of other legitimate reasons for your employer to have a dress code – for example, a requirement not to wear jeans if you are in a customer-facing role or to wear a uniform that identifies staff to members of the public.
The main question for your employer to ask is whether what a member of staff wears affects their ability to do their job effectively.
If the answer to this question is ‘yes’, and your employer wants to have a dress code as a result, then they must apply their dress code in a way that avoids unlawful discrimination.
Having different rules about clothing or appearance for men and women can result in claims of sex discrimination. For example, if there is a dress code that applies to women but not to men or if the dress code is applied more strictly to one sex than the other, this could be direct discrimination. However, it has been established in the courts that employers do not have to impose exactly the same dress code on men and women. If the dress code applies 'conventional standards of dress and appearance', then it will be seen as applying an even handed approach between men and women
The standard of dress or appearance set should be the same for both women and men, such as ‘business dress’ or ‘casual clothes
Imposing the same rule on everyone may indirectly discriminate against workers with a particular religion or belief.
An employer introduces a ‘no beards’ policy, saying this is for health and safety reasons in a plant producing food products. The policy has a disproportionate impact on workers whose religious beliefs require them not to be clean shaven. Unless the employer can objectively justify the policy, this will be indirect discrimination because of religion or belief. A better approach might be for the employer to provide workers with ‘beard nets’ to avoid the risk of hair falling into the food.
Some religions require their followers to dress in a modest way. A dress code which requires a shirt to be tucked inside trousers or a skirt may conflict with that requirement as it accentuates body shape. However, if the individual is allowed to wear the shirt over the outside of the trousers or a (long) skirt it may be quite acceptable. The question to ask is whether any requirement to stick to a dress code which does not allow a worker to do this can be objectively justified.
Some religions require their followers to wear particular items of jewellery or clothing. A ban on all jewellery or on the particular item of clothing may affect someone who follows one of these religions. If the wearing of the jewellery or item of clothing is not a matter of an individual follower’s personal preference, but something which places the individual and others who share the same religious belief at a particular disadvantage compared to others, then a ban on all jewellery or on that item of clothing may amount to indirect discrimination unless the employer can objectively justify it.
A bank bans its workers from wearing any type of jewellery while at work. This is not for health and safety reasons but because the employer does not like body piercings. A Sikh worker who wears a Kara bracelet as an integral part of her religion complains about the rule. To avoid a claim of indirect discrimination, the employer considers allowing an exception to this rule, as in these circumstances, the employer may find it difficult to objectively justify the blanket ban.
If you are a disabled person and your employer puts in place a dress code for their workers (or you start working somewhere that already has a dress code), they must make reasonable adjustments for you.
An employer has a policy of requiring all customer-facing male staff to wear a tie. This disadvantages a man with a skin condition that is made worse by contact with tight clothing. As a reasonable adjustment the employer allows the man to work on the reception desk in an open-necked shirt, but still requires him to be of smart appearance.
Your employer also need to make sure that they avoid: