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New guidance on dress codes and sex discrimination

Posted: 19th June 2018   In: Business Employment

The Government Equalities Office has published new guidance for employers on how to avoid sex discrimination when implementing workplace dress codes. 

The document, entitled Dress codes and sex discrimination – what you need to know, stresses that while policies on clothes can be a legitimate part of an employer’s terms and conditions of employment, the requirements for men and women must maintain similar standards.

It states: “Dress policies for men and women do not have to be identical, but standards imposed should be equivalent. Dress codes must not be a source of harassment by colleagues or customers, for example, women being expected to dress in a provocative manner.

“It is best to avoid gender specific prescriptive requirements, for example, the requirement to wear high heels. Any requirement to wear make-up, skirts, have manicured nails, certain hairstyles or specific types of hosiery is likely to be unlawful.”

The introduction says the guidance sets out to explain the law on dress codes in workplaces such as offices, hotels, airlines, temporary work agencies, corporate services, the retail sector, the hospitality sector, especially in bars, restaurants and clubs. It is, however, also relevant throughout industry.

The guidance says a dress code that requires all employees to “dress smartly” would be lawful, provided the definition of smart is reasonable. It then gives the following examples of what would be reasonable:

“A two-piece suit in a similar colour for both men and women, with low-heeled shoes for both sexes.

“A requirement for men to wear a shirt and tie is not unlawful if women are also expected to wear smart attire.”

The guidance also stresses that dress codes should consider health and safety, transgender staff and making reasonable adjustments for disabled employees.

Please contact Jackie Webb if you would like more information about the issues raised in this article or any aspect of employment law.