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The Dress Code Debates

The recent hot weather has led to numerous companies relaxing their dress code policies, so employees who usually were seen in a full suit and tie, were able to undo their collars and forgo the jacket in order to cope with the unprecedented British summer heat. It therefore seems fitting to highlight some areas for employers to consider when it comes to implementing a dress code policy within their business.

To get us started, rule 101. It may seem obvious however employers must avoid unlawful discrimination in any dress code policy. Employers should also be careful with blanket banning or imposing of particulars items of dress. Two main areas to be especially considerate of surround items relating to religion or to a specific gender.

Religious Dress

Religion is one of the nine protected characteristics and many religions often have items of dress associated with them. If employers chose to ban an item of dress that is associated with a particular religion i.e. Turbans or Crucifixes, it may be found to be discriminatory, although this isn’t always the case.

A French company won their case for banning religious wear in their office as they applied their policy equally across all religions (i.e. no crucifixes, headscarves, turbans), however in the UK there is a higher bar on the ‘objective justification’ or essentially more onus on the employer to justify their reasons for banning the item of dress. In the UK the employer would have to have to present a legitimate business reason or safety reason for banning the religious dress in the workplace, and even then they wouldn’t be guaranteed in defending their case.


Gender is another protected characteristic and just like with religion, certain items of dress are associated with particular genders. This doesn’t mean that you cannot implement a successful dress code though. If you take ‘business wear’ as an example, then as long as dress codes are proportionate and applied equally, you can have different requirements for men and women. A specific example would be requiring women to wear “business dress” and men “must wear a tie” as this is holding both genders to similar standards.

Tattoos and Piercings

Another area which has seen some press recently involves tattoos and piercings. Under UK Law workers have no standalone protection for having a tattoo or piercing under the current discrimination legislation. Roughly a fifth of adults have a tattoo with that statistic continuing to rise with tattoos in the younger generations becoming more common place. This is leading to some companies, including McDonalds and Starbucks, relaxing tattoo policies and allowing them to be visible providing they aren’t offensive. Although employers do not necessarily have to focus on whether their actions are unlawful  when banning tattoos or piercings they need to consider whether they are missing out on a bank of particularly young  talent by banning them.

Ultimately when thinking about implementing a dress code or when reviewing a historic one that is already in place, companies should consider what seems ‘reasonable’, whether their current practices reflect that of today’s society and to make sure that any rules put in place, don’t impact on one section of the workplace more than another to prevent either direct or indirect discrimination.

If you would like to discuss your dress code or any other HR issues, please contact our HR Consultancy team on 01302 341 344.

By Kris Kerins BSc (Hons) PGC (Tech Mgmt)Risk Services Adviser

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