Dress codes at work – what the law says

The subject of dress codes at work has come under the spotlight after legal cases were highlighted in the media last year, including that of an employee who was required to wear high heels at work.  To address uncertainty among employers and employers, the Government is soon to publish guidance about acceptable work dress codes.

Dress codes must be ‘relevant and lawful’.

A ‘relevant’ dress code would be one which takes into account health & safety issues in the workplace, or the fact that, for instance, an employer might want to ensure customers can recognise company staff.

A ‘lawful’ dress code means that, as per the Equality Act 2010, it must not discriminate on the grounds of age, disability, gender reassignment, religion or belief, sex or sexual orientation. In particular, a dress code “cannot make significantly more demands of female employees than of their male colleagues”.

In practice this may mean that the Government will address controversial dress code requirements such as insisting on staff wearing high heels, make-up, and so on. Although staff can be dismissed for not adhering to a dress code, employers should consider whether the policy is reasonable and lawful.

If you have any concerns about dress codes, seek advice from an employment lawyer.

Key points

  • Employers must avoid unlawful discrimination in their dress code
  • Employers should address any relevant health & safety risks
  • Dress codes must apply to men and women equally
  • Reasonable adjustments must be made in dress codes for disabled employees
  • The law is currently unclear on the wearing of religious items (such as a Christian cross necklace) and on policies which ask employees to cover tattoos or remove piercings.  Employers should consider how they can address these issues with employees where there is conflict with the dress code.