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Dressing for the occasion?

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The recent rise in temperatures has seen a number of new enquiries regarding dress code and what an employer can and can’t require its’ staff to wear. Yes, employers can implement a Dress Code Policy to inform their employees what they are expected to wear whilst at work. An employer may choose to have such a policy for various reasons including for health and safety reasons, to provide uniformity or because they want their employees to portray a certain image. They are, after all, a reflection on the employer.  

In May 2018 the Government Equalities Office published a guide addressing this very issue “dress codes and sex discrimination – what you need to know” following a recommendation from the Parliamentary Women and Equalities Select Committee and the Petitions Committee. The guide sets out examples of how a Dress Code Policy can lead to instances of unlawful practice by an employer.

Employers must ensure that any dress code imposes equivalent standards on both men and women in the workplace and it should avoid gender specific requirements. For example, if a Policy states that women are required to wear high heels whilst they are at work this is likely to be direct discrimination on the grounds of sex as the same requirement is not placed upon men. Instead, the Policy should state that both men and women are required to wear smart shoes whilst at work, thus applying the same standard to all employees.
 
It is important to note that different dress codes may in some circumstances be imposed upon men and women by the employer but when doing so the dress code for one sex cannot be far stricter than the other.
 
Employers should also be careful when imposing a Dress Code Policy that it does not prohibit wearing a religious symbol if to do so would not have an impact on the work that is being carried out. For example, in Chaplin v Royal Devon & Exeter NHS Foundation Trust it was held that the Trust did not discriminate against Mrs Chaplin by not allowing her to wear a crucifix necklace to work as they had a legitimate aim in imposing the uniform policy to protect the health and safety of the staff and patients.

We recommend that employers consider the recent guidance from the Government Equalities Office and review any policies they have relating to dress code in light of it. Should changes be required you may need to consult with any employees and trade unions.

If you require any assistance regarding this or any other employment law matter please contact Camille Renaudon in our employment department on 01270 215117 or cvr@hibberts.com

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