It has almost been a year since the government introduced new guidance on dress codes and sex discrimination in the workplace.
Currently, there is a fluid, almost grey area in terms of what an employer can stipulate - and what employees are entitled to wear - while at work.
Following a recommendation from the Parliamentary Women and Equalities Select Committee and the Petitions Committee, the codes apply to all places of work in the UK, whether that be an office, hotel, shop or airline.
Introducing a workplace dress code
It is important employers understand that their dress code could be unlawful under the guidelines if, for instance, they require their female staff to wear high heels, with all the discomfort and inherent health issues these can cause, because this treats women less favourably than men.
Although dress policies for men and women do not have to be identical, it is best to avoid gender-specific prescriptive requirements.
Any requirement to wear make-up, skirts, have manicured nails, or have certain hairstyles or specific types of hosiery is likely to be unlawful and could lead to claims of sex discrimination. Ultimately, less favourable treatment based on an employee’s sex could be direct discrimination.
A company that implements a dress code requiring staff to dress smartly by permitting both men and women to wear trousers in the workplace would be lawful, as there are no gender-specific requirements.
Additionally, transgender employees should be supplied with a uniform option which suits their gender identity. For example, if they are physically male but identify as a woman and undergoing the process of aligning their life and physical identity to match their gender identity, then the business’s dress code should allow them to dress accordingly.
Under the Equality Act 2010, employers are required to make reasonable adjustments to any elements of the job which place a disabled person at a substantial disadvantage compared to non-disabled people. This includes health and safety implications. For example, if an employer requires staff to wear particular shoes, then they should consider whether this may make staff more prone to slips and trips, or injuries to the feet.
Religion must also be considered when implementing workplace dress codes. The UK 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 that prohibit religious symbols – particularly in cases where they do not interfere with an employee’s work.
If an employee believes their employer’s dress code is discriminatory, then they should initially speak to the manager, explaining their reasons why. If this leads to the employee being criticised or penalised, a claim of unlawful victimisation or discrimination could result in an employment tribunal.
Overall, when setting or revising a dress code, businesses should consult with employees, staff organisations and HR departments to ensure that the code is acceptable to both the organisation and staff. Ultimately, an environment where everyone feels safe and comfortable regardless of sex, disability or religion, will create a healthy, inclusive business.
Sponsored post. Copyright © 2019 Kirsten Cluer, HR consultant and owner of Cluer HR