The Government has recently issued guidance for employers on dress codes. The purpose of the code is to set out for employers how the laws on sex discrimination might apply if female employees are required to wear high heels or make up in the course of their employment.
The guidance makes it clear that employers are entitled to impose dress codes as part of their terms and conditions of employment. Dress codes between men and women can be different of course but the code makes it clear that they must be equivalent. If possible, employers should avoid gender specific requirements (for example high heels or skirts) as this is likely to be unlawful.
If an employer wants to introduce a dress code and employees are represented by a union, the employer is advised to consult the union.
The types of employment environments where these issues might be especially relevant are: bars, restaurants, hotels, airlines and the corporate sector.
The issue is that a dress code that is less favourable to women could amount to sex discrimination or harassment under the Equality Act 2010.
There have been cases in recent times relating to religious symbols. For example, British Airways lost a case a few years ago when the company tried to require an employee to remove the visible cross on her necklace. The employee won her case on the basis that not allowing her to wear her cross amounted to a breach of Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights (the freedom to ‘manifest religion or belief’).
The Government’s code makes it clear that: ‘Britain is an integrated and cohesive society with a proud tradition of religious tolerance within the law. Employers should be flexible and not set dress codes which prohibit religious symbols that do not interfere with an employee’s work’.
Employers should therefore be reviewing their dress codes and policies as a result of the guidance being issued.
Link to the guidance: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/dress-codes-and-sex-discrimination-what-you-need-to-know
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