Last year the widely publicized “high heels case” hit the headlines when PwC receptionist Nicola Thorp was sent home without pay after refusing to wear high heels at work. A petition causing for this practice to be made illegal was then signed by over 150,000 people, prompting a committee of MPs to look into the matter. They concluded that existing laws (in particular the Equality Act 2010) do provide the right protection, but that they need reviewing to make enforcing the protections more straightforward.
So, as an employer, what do you need to know about workplace dress codes?
Employers are entitled to implement a dress code to ensure that staff are dressed in a manner suited to their business, provided this would not be deemed as discriminatory. Dress codes are perfectly lawful provided they are reasonable and there are equivalent requirements for both females and males. Given that men and women do not wear similar clothing or shoes, how can employers implement a dress code which does not discriminate against employees?
Employers need to show that they have a legitimate business interest in implementing their particular dress code policy. Where this interest is purely aesthetic it is likely to fail. Employers also need to consider what aspects of their dress code policy are justifiable and the committee report provided a number of recommendations of legitimate aims that could be relied upon by employers such as:
- providing proper health and safety (high visibility, hard hats etc.)
- projecting a smart and uniform image
- restricting insignia which might cause offence (care is needed here to avoid religious discrimination) So, before introducing a dress code you should consider your legal obligations not only in relation to potential discrimination against employees but also in relation to any health and safety risks.
If you are thinking about implementing a dress code or updating an existing policy we would be happy to assist you in ensuring it is legally compliant as well as suited to your business needs.
The Backhouse Team
Tel: 01245 893400
Or visit our offices at 17 Duke Street, Chelmsford, CM1 1JU