Government Equalities Office has published new guidance on dress codes & sex discrimination

Setting a workplace dress code – your responsibilities as an employer

Dress codes are seen as a legitimate part of an employer’s terms and conditions. There are many different reasons why employees may be asked to wear a uniform. For example, an employee may be asked to wear a uniform to communicate a corporate image and ensure that its customers/clients can easily recognise them. However, it is important that this dress code does not discriminate, for example, allowing both men and women to wear trousers in the workplace.

Government guidelines state employers should avoid gender prescriptive requirements. For example, any requirement to wear make-up, have manicured nails, wear hair in certain styles or to wear specific types of hosiery and skirts will be viewed as unlawful, assuming there is no equivalent requirement for men. These guidelines state further: “A dress code that requires all employees to dress smartly would be lawful, provided the definition of smart is reasonable.”

Health & Safety

When setting a dress code, employers should consider any health and safety implications. For example, if your employees are required to wear particular shoes (as part of a dress code rather than for PPE purposes).

Reasonable adjustments for disabled employees

Where an individual meets the definition of a disabled person under the Equality Act 2010, employers will be required to make reasonable adjustments to any elements of the job which may place a disabled employee at a disadvantage in comparison to a non-disabled person.

Transgender employees

Transgender people are those who have gender identity or gender expression that differs from their assigned sex. Many of whom will undergo the process of aligning their life and physical identity to match their gender identity – this is called transitioning.

Government guidelines state: “Transgender employees should be allowed to follow the organisations dress code in a way which they feel matches their gender identity. If there is a staff uniform, they should be supplied with an option which suits them.”

Dress codes and religion

An employer’s uniform requirements must not be discriminatory in respect of the protected characteristics governed under the Equality Act 2010 – religion being one of these characteristics.

Guidelines provide that employers should be flexible and not set dress codes which prohibit religious symbols that do not interfere with an employee’s work.

Frequently asked questions by employers

“Is it lawful for an employer to set dress codes for men and women?”

Employers can regulate what their employees wear to work to a certain extent. However, men and women should be treated equally. For example, if you require male employees to wear a shirt and tie, then it would not be unlawful to ask female employees to dress in smart office attire.

“Is it lawful to ask a female employee to wear high heels to work?”

It is likely to be viewed as unlawful asking a female to wear heels to work, due to the discomfort and health complications that come with high heels, there is also no male equivalent.

Mental Health Awareness Week 2018

Mental health awareness week (14th-20th May 2018) focuses on stress and how we cope with it.

This blog will look at helping employers and employees create a mentally healthy working environment where everyone feels valued and supported.

What is mental health?

Mental health includes a person’s emotional, physiological and social well-being. It affects how we think, feel and act. It also determines how we handle stress, related to others and make choices.

Why is recognising and addressing mental health so important?

Employees who feel good about themselves tend to work more productively, interact better with others and bring value to the workplace.

A survey, commissioned by the Mental Health Foundation and Mental Health First Aid England found that a quarter of millennials said they put their health at risk to do their job, compared with 18% of baby boomers – those aged between 53 and 71.

A study conducted by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) highlights the impact mental health has on the workplace. The main findings of this study were:

  • 57% find it harder to juggle multiple tasks
  • 80% find it difficult to concentrate
  • 62% take longer to do tasks
  • 50% are potentially less patient with customers/clients

Here are a few simple steps you can take to ensure your workplace is mentally healthier:

(1)    Recognise that all employees have mental health

It is important that employers are aware that all employees have mental health, in the same way an individual has their physical health. Both can deteriorate from good to bad, depending on circumstances that may be going on in and out of the working environment.

(2)    Keep in contact with employees who are off with a mental health issue

You should find the right balance when keeping in touch with an employee who is off sick, employers should be aware that the longer an employee is off with a mental health issue, the less likely they are to return to work. This is because they will begin to lose confidence and feel kept in the dark from the business. Therefore, whilst an employee is off on long-term sick leave, employers and managers should:

  • Be clear the business will support the employee during this period and their job will still be there when they return
  • Keep employees in the loop about important developments at work
  • Have an open door policy so the employee can approach you at any time with concerns they may have

(3)    Culture

Employers should develop a mental health policy, by doing this employee’s will be reassured that the business cares for their wellbeing. Having these policies in place will create an overall awareness in the workplace and encourage individuals to talk about mental health.

(4)    Communication

Employers should use staff newsletters, posters and other internal communications to promote mental health awareness. As well as this, introducing discussions into staff meetings can be used as an opportunity to check in with how employees are feeling.

(5)    Ensure all managers are properly trained

By training up managers, employees will be reassured that their management team is educated in mental health matters, meaning they will feel more inclined to come forward and discuss any problems they may be having in and out of the working environment.

(6)    Zero tolerance to bullying policies

All employers should ensure there is a zero-tolerance approach taken to bullying in the workplace. It should be communicated in these policies that those found guilty of such conduct will be subject to disciplinary action.

Employment Law Support for Employers

If you are an employer and require employment law advice on workplace policies or any other employment issue give us a call today on 0370 218 5662. You can also find out more about our fixed fee HR packages here and fixed fee employment law packages here, or get in touch.

The Supreme Court hands down its long-awaited decision in the appeal of Newcastle upon Tyne Hospitals NHS v Haywood

This complaint was brought by Haywood who was dismissed after being made redundant by her employers, Newcastle upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust. In this case the claimant had worked for the NHS for over 30 years as an associate director of business development.

The provisions of her employment contract ensured that she was entitled to a minimum 12-week notice period but was silent on how the notice should be communicated.

On the 13th April, Haywood received the news that her role was at risk of redundancy following the merger of the two NHS bodies. She accepted this, however, requested that the final decision should not be made in her absence – informing her employers she was on annual leave from the 19th April 2011 – these holidays had already been approved by her employers.

On the 20th April, the Trust sent a letter to Haywood that provided her with a written notice of termination – with the knowledge that she was away on holiday at the time.

However, they mistakenly said that they had given her written notice that was dated the 21st April, which appeared to be misdated; the letter was sent on the 20th April to her home address by recorded delivery and by normal post. A copy of this letter was also sent to her husband’s email address.

This meant that should the claimants employment be terminated before her 50th birthday, she would receive a reduced pension.

Because Haywood had told her employers she would be on holiday and would not be back until 26th April, there was no one at home when the recorded delivery letter arrived.

It wasn’t until the 26th April that her father in-law went and collected the letter from the local sorting office. Haywood then returned home from her holiday on the 27th April, it was this date that the letter was read.

Her employers claimed that the notice was communicated effectively on the 20th April, which meant her 12-week notice period lapsed before her 50th birthday, which fell on the 20th July.

The claimant argued that the notice of termination was not communicated until she actually read the letter on the 27th April. Thus, her termination date would be after her 50th birthday.

Both the High Court and the Court of Appeal upheld this case, agreeing that the claimants notice period commenced on the 27th April, with the Court of Appeal expressing that the effective date is when the individual reads the termination letter.

A statement from the Supreme Court read: “On the unusual facts of this case, the date on which the 12-week notice period started to run was highly material. If it commenced on the 27th April, it expired on the 20th July 2011 – the date of Mrs Haywood’s 50th birthday – and Mrs Haywood would be entitled to claim a non- actuarially reduced early retirement pension.”

Due to the absence of an expressed contractual provision, the courts had to determine the implied contractual term to work out when the notice to effect. Haywood’s employers argued that a common law rule, that originated from landlord and tenant cases, maintained that notice was given when the letter was delivered to the claimant’s address.

Haywood was then dependent on the approach taken by the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) in previous employment cases; that notice takes effect when it has been received and read by the employee. The Supreme Court majority supported this approach and agreed that the EAT was correct.

Employer considerations

The decision made in this case is important for both employers and employees, as the date in which the employment relationship is terminated can play a crucial factor when determining an employee’s entitlement to a bonus or contractual payment, insurance, employee benefits, the right to claim unfair dismissal, redundancy pay and pension rights.

How can Employment Law Services (ELS) help?

For employers that already have contracts of employment in place, we can review all existing documents and update them as required; for employers that have nothing in place, we can produce effective contracts of employment for all employees from scratch.

Therefore, If you require employment law advice on any of the issues raised in this article, or any other employment issue give us a call today on 0370 218 5662.  You can also find out more about our fixed fee HR packages here and fixed fee employment law packages here, or get in touch.