The Government’s Equalities Office has just published new guidance on dress codes and sex discrimination.
At only nine pages long, it won’t take you long to read it and it has already been branded a “Janet and John” guide in some HR circles. Whilst I would agree that it is a little light. It is nonetheless a useful starting point for an employer who has a dress code or is thinking about putting one in place.
It makes the point that a dress code can be a legitimate part of an employer’s terms and conditions of employment. It also makes the point that dress polices for men and women don’t have to be identical, but standards imposed should be equivalent. This is underlined by the example in the guide itself which confirms that a requirement for men to wear a shirt and tie is not unlawful if women are also expected to wear smart office attire.
The guide also comments in some detail on employers who require women to wear high heels. This may well be on the back of the case in December 2015 when PWC sent home a receptionist for not wearing high heels and the subsequent pressure on the Government to make dress codes which required the wearing of high heels unlawful. It was always unlikely that the Government would introduce legislation on this topic. However, the guide makes it very clear that it is best to avoid gender specific prescriptive requirements such as the requirement to wear high heels. A dress code which imposes a requirement on female staff to wear high heels but doesn’t place any footwear requirements on male employees or merely requires them to look smart is likely to constitute direct discrimination on the grounds of sex.
It would also appear that the Government has reacted to the recent Presidents Club debacle and the requirement that the hostesses attending the event had to wear a particular type of dress. Interestingly, the guide makes the point so long as you require both male and female employees to dress in a provocative manner, that would probably not amount to direct discrimination. However, it could well lead to an environment in which employees may be vulnerable to unwanted sexual attention and harassment and lead to claims as a result.
The other sensible point the guide makes is that it is important that a dress code does not discriminate against employees with a particular religion or belief or no religion or belief.
In short, whilst dress codes are permissible and lawful, employers need to think carefully about them.
For employment law advice in respect of dress codes and sex discrimination, please contact Matt Jenkin on t: 01628 470 011 or e: firstname.lastname@example.org.