The Government’s Equalities Office has published guidance on dress codes and sex discrimination for employers, employees and job applicants .
The guidance explains employers’ legal responsibilities when setting a workplace dress code policy, explains what employees should do if they believe that their employer’s policy infringes their rights. It also contains examples of policy requirements that might be discriminatory and those which would be acceptable. It also contains a section answering frequently asked questions.
The guidance also briefly deals with issues other than whose involving sex discrimination that may arise in relation to dress codes, including religious symbols, transgender issues, health and safety, and the need to make reasonable adjustments for disabled staff.
Guidance for employers on dress codes
It recommends that when an employer is setting or revising a dress code policy:
- It considers the reasoning behind having a policy
- It consults with employees, staff organisations and trade unions to try and ensure the policy is acceptable to both the employer and its staff
- It considers the health and safety implications of any requirement. For example, if employees are required to wear particular shoes as part of a dress code (rather than for personal protective equipment purposes), it should consider whether this may make staff more prone to slips and trips or injuries to their feet.
The guidance advises against:
- Gender specific prescriptive requirements, such as a requirement to wear high heels. It states that any requirement to wear make-up, skirts, have manicured nails, certain hairstyles or specific types of hosiery is likely to be unlawful, if there is no equivalent requirement for men
- Having a code that could lead to harassment by colleagues or customers, as any requirements for women to dress in a provocative manner are likely to be unlawful on those grounds
- Prohibiting religious symbols that do not interfere with an employee’s work.
The guidance explains that it may be a reasonable adjustment to not require a disabled employee to comply with a dress code and transgender employees should be allowed to follow the organisation’s dress code in a way which they feel matches their gender identity.