A dress code to impress….and avoid sex discrimination

Posted 23/05/2018 : By: Claire Sleep

A dress code may seem archaic, stringent or unnecessary to many people. However, it can be a powerful tool in creating a particular image of a workplace, which is integral to many professions. How the outside world e.g. clients see us will, whether consciously or not, impact a decision to instruct us.

This May, the Government Equalities Office released guidance on dress codes in the workplace titled ‘Dress codes and sex discrimination – what you need to know, May 2018’.

So what do we need to know?

The guidance sets out how the law might apply in cases of sex discrimination where an employer requires female employees to wear certain things, or dress in a certain way, and it explains the law on dress codes in varying workplaces from retail to corporate services.

The guidance also states that men and women can have separate dress codes, but standards imposed should be equivalent as any less favourable treatment because of sex could be direct discrimination (e.g. allowing only men to wear trousers).  It also states that dress codes must not be a source of harassment by colleagues or customers.  In addition it states that employers should avoid gender specific prescriptive requirements (e.g. requiring high heels be worn by females only).

You should also consider why you are revising or setting a dress code and bear in mind that consulting employees and trade unions will assist in creating mutually acceptable codes for the organisation and its staff.

In addition you should have regard to the following in your dress codes:

  • Health & Safety – have regard to any implications e.g. footwear.
  • Reasonable adjustments for disabled employees – employers are required to make reasonable adjustments to any element of the job which place a disabled person (as per the Equality Act 2010 definition) at a substantive disadvantage compared to non-disabled people.
  • Transgender staff – transgender employees should be allowed to follow the dress code in a way which they feel matches their gender identity. If there is a uniform, then that member of staff should be supplied with an option that suits them.
  • Religious symbols – employers should be flexible. Do not set codes which prohibit religious symbols that do not interfere with an employee’s work.

Should you have any queries about this article please contact Claire Sleep on 01223 431094 or email Claire.sleep@ashtonslegal.co.uk

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