In the months that followed the Presidents’ Club scandal and  high heels to work campaign, the Government Equalities Office has published new guidance on workplace dress code. The guidance recognises that a workplace dress code can be a legitimate part of an employer’s terms and conditions of employment, but highlights some of the employment law risks which can arise from putting a workplace dress code into practice.

Can a dress code distinguish between men and women?

Absolutely. The guidance recognises that a dress code does not need to have identical standards for men and women – provided similar rules are in place for both male and female employees (such as that they need to ‘dress smartly’).

The guidance warns employers to avoid:

  • gender specific clothing requirements (such as women being required to wear high heels or skirts to work)
  • gender specific grooming requirements (such as women should wear make-up, have manicured nails or a specific hairstyle)
  • requests to dress provocatively (such as having to wear revealing clothing) because this could tend to lead to an increased risk of harassment by colleagues or customers.

It is worth noting that the above requirements may not only amount to sex discrimination, but could also constitute religious discrimination (Some Muslim or Jewish women may not feel able to wear a short skirt, low cut top or make-up because she wishes to dress modestly in keeping with her faith).

Transgender employees

The guidance recognises some transgender employees may want to follow the employer’s dress code in a way which they feel matches their gender identity. If there is a staff uniform, they should be provided with one which suits their choice of identity.

Religious symbols

The guidance recommends that employers should be flexible and not set dress codes which prohibit religious symbols that do not interfere with an employee’s work. In this respect, the guidance perhaps goes further than the most recent EU case law on religious symbols – so employers wishing to ban religious symbols should take legal advice specific to their circumstances.

Reasonable adjustments for disability

The guidance reminds employers that they may need to make reasonable adjustments to a dress code should it put a disabled person at a substantial disadvantage (such as if their disability prevents them from wearing specific shoes, or if a uniform does not allow them to cover-up any medical equipment worn on the body).

You can download a free copy of the report here.