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New guidance for employers when setting dress code policies

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Following an increase in media attention in recent years, a recommendation from the Parliamentary Women and Equalities Select Committee has led to new Government guidance concerning dress codes, and how to avoid them being discriminatory – particularly with regard to sex-based discrimination.

Dress codes are often used in the workplace and there are many reasons for implementing them – for example making employees easily identifiable to customers, communicating a professional or corporate image, or for health and safety purposes – but an employer’s dress code must not be discriminatory in respect of the protected characteristics laid out in the Equality Act 2010.

What are my dress code responsibilities as an employer?

Dress policies for men and women do not have to be identical, provided that they are applied in an equal manner across all staff – in practice, this means that rules must be similar or equivalent for everyone, regardless of gender. For example, requiring female members of staff to wear heels where men are only instructed to dress smartly would constitute direct discrimination, as there is not an equivalent expectation placed on male members of staff; however, requiring men to wear a shirt and tie is not unlawful, provided that there is also an expectation that women wear smart office attire.

A dress code should not have the potential to cause harassment. For example, requiring women to dress in a provocative manner may lead to harassment by colleagues and/or customers, and would thus likely be considered unlawful.

When setting a dress code, consider the reasoning behind it. Consulting with your employees, staff organisations, and trade unions could help you to ensure that the dress code is both appropriate, and acceptable to all staff.

Things to consider

  • When implementing a dress code, employers must be careful to consider potential health and safety implications – for example, will requiring employees to wear certain shoes lead to an increased risk of tripping or falling?
  • Employers are obligated to make reasonable adjustments in the workplace for disabled employees, and this includes the dress code. If certain requirements of a dress code may place a disabled person at a substantial disadvantage compared to their non-disabled counterparts, an alternative must be considered.
  • Transgender employees (those who identify with a different gender to the one they were assigned at birth) should be permitted to follow dress codes in a way which they feel best matches their gender identity.
  • With regards to religious symbols, employers ought to be flexible. Religious symbols that do not interfere with an employee’s work should be permitted within the dress code. Employers should bear in mind that some employees may also wish to avoid certain cuts, fits, or items of clothing because of their religion or belief.

Contact

If you require any assistance with drafting policies for your business or require any clarification on the issues discussed above, please contact Kate Hunter on 0161 785 3500 or kate.hunter@pearsonlegal.co.uk.

Sources

Government Equalities Office, “Dress codes and sex discrimination – what you need to know” (May 2018)

Please note that the information and opinions contained in this article are not intended to be comprehensive, nor to provide legal advice. No responsibility for its accuracy or correctness is assumed by Pearson Solicitors and Financial Advisers LLP or any of its members or employees. Professional legal advice should be obtained before taking, or refraining from taking, any action as a result of this article.