Employers should ensure that any policy they design places equivalent requirements on all employees regardless of the sex, religion or belief, race, or other characteristic, of the employee. Dress codes should be appropriate to the type of organisation and necessary for the particular type of work undertaken.
Once in place there is a duty on an employee to comply with the code, but he or she may have a claim against the employer if the code places him or her at a disadvantage compared to other employees, on the grounds of his or her sex or race, religion or belief or other protected characteristic.
Social norms and legal requirements regarding dress and general appearance at work are constantly evolving and employers should therefore keep their approach to, and policy on, this issue under review.
How to implement a dress code without discriminating against employees, particularly under the protected characteristics of sex, race, religion or belief, gender re-assignment and disability is considered below as is the importance of hygiene and safety issues:
- Dress codes for men and women should be equivalent and not place an onerous burden or be unduly restrictive on one sex or the other.
- Any court looking at possible discrimination on the basis of dress or appearance will take an overview of the case in question, rather than analysing the case on a garment by garment basis.
- An organisation cannot generally restrict the rights of an employee to his or her religious freedom under the protected characteristic of Race, or Religion or Belief.
- An organisation can only restrict an employee’s right to religious freedom if such action is justified for a good business reason.
- An employee may have rights to freedom of expression under the Human Rights Act 1998.
- An individual who aims to undergo gender reassignment should be allowed to wear the appropriate clothing of his or her intended gender.
An employer should take steps to ensure all managers and human resources’ staff are properly trained in the issues, and that all employees are aware of any code on dress and appearance.