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.