When it comes to dress codes and what to wear, your natural instinct may be to look to the catwalk or style icons. However, if you are an employer and you have, or are considering drafting, a workplace dress code, you need look no further than the Government Equalities Office’s recent guidance: Dress codes and sex discrimination- what you need to know (May 2018).
A workplace dress code can be a key factor in achieving a professional look among your employees and as such can be a legitimate and important part of your terms and conditions. Notwithstanding this, it is important that the dress code you have in place does not discriminate on the grounds of sex or at all.
The guidance makes it clear that dress policies for men and women do not have to be identical, but the standards that are imposed should be equivalent. You should avoid gender-specific prescriptive requirements, for example requiring female employees to wear high heels, make up or even skirts. It is also important to ensure that your dress code won’t lead to harassment by colleagues or customers. So, think twice before directing your employees to dress “provocatively”, even if this would be good for business.
Writing a dress code
When drafting or revising your dress code, consider using more generic requirements such as to dress “smartly” and to “avoid revealing and/or tight fitting clothes” as these would apply equally to both women and men. You should also take care to implement the policy fairly and consistently. It is all very well having your policy written in non-discriminatory terms, but if you then discipline a male employee for having a shirt unbuttoned low whilst allowing female employees to wear low cut tops without sanction then this too could amount to discrimination.
Once you have your provisional ‘non-discriminatory on the grounds of sex’ policy wording in place, there are still a few more things to take into consideration. For example, where an employer requires staff to wear a particular item of clothing as part of the dress code (rather than for personal protective equipment purposes) then you will need to consider whether the item required would lead to increased risk to health and safety, for example where requiring a certain style of footwear may increase the risk of slips, trips and injuries to feet. You should give thought to any disabled employees you have, or may have, and how the dress code might affect them. If the dress code in place could be onerous to a disabled employee then it may be a reasonable adjustment to relax the requirements or to excuse that employee from the requirements altogether. The dress code should also be flexible so as not to prohibit religious symbols that do not interfere with the employees’ work.
Cheryl Moolenschot, Litigation Consultant at EML, comments:
“One point not referred to above is that when applying dress code requirements, employers should be mindful that a person’s gender identity will not necessarily match with their assigned sex at birth. Employees may wish to align their life and/or physical identity to match their gender identity and in such circumstances, they should be given the freedom to follow the dress code in a way which they feel matches their gender identity. Where the dress code includes a uniform supplied by the employer, such individuals should be supplied with an option that suits them.”
If you’d like further guidance on the issues raised in this post, or would like our support to develop or amend a dress code or other employment policy, please call us on 01942 727200 or use our online contact form.