Dress Codes: “Don’t tell me what to wear!”

As a society we are becoming increasingly averse to being told what to do, not least in the workplace and especially when the British summertime hits and we want to ditch the suits and keep cool……

Can I be told what to wear? There are many valid reasons why an employer may impose a dress code (corporate image, identification, health & safety) but it must relate to the job, be reasonable in nature and ideally be set out clearly in the organisation’s policy. Employees must also be informed of the policy and given enough time to buy the required attire.

But is it fair? A dress code must not be discriminatory against any of the ‘characteristics’ protected by the Equality Act 2010 (age, disability, gender reassignment, religion or belief, sex, or sexual orientation). For example, if a dress code is in place, reasonable adjustments may need to be made for disabled people and employers must respect clothing worn for religious reasons. However, this must be balanced against other relevant factors i.e. loose clothing may be a hazard when operating machinery.

Men v. women:  The Government Equalities Offices has recently published new guidance on dress codes and sex discrimination. The Guidance highlights that whilst dress policies for men and women do not have to be the same, the standards imposed on each sex should be equivalent. For example a policy can require men to ‘wear a tie’ whilst ‘business dress’ is required for women and requiring any gender-specific items (high heels, manicured nails or lipsticks) is likely to be held unlawful.

Recent media hype surrounding dress codes has caused many employers to review and even scrap their policies. Last summer male employees revolted against a ‘no shorts’ policy by wearing skirts to work and the Speaker of the House of Commons announced that male MPs no longer needed to wear a tie to speak, thus ending centuries of tradition.

What if I don’t want to? If the code is reasonable, staff can be dismissed for failing to comply but employers should be cautious of imposing high standards and risk having their policy tested by the Employment Tribunal.

Our Team at North Ainley provide clear and practical advice on all Employment Law issues.

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