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Government – hot on the heels of discrimination!

BY Donald MacKinnon
Employment Law & HR
BG Purple

A committee of MPs has urged the government to enforce the law that bans sexist dress codes at work. The Equality Act 2010 prohibits discriminatory dress requirements but it is claimed that this is not being properly enforced. The report of MPs follows the case of a former agency worker who was sent home without pay after she refused to comply with the agency’s rule on compulsory high heels. Her story resulted in a petition that gained over 150,000 signatures.

So what can an employer demand an employee wears? The key point here is whether the dress code can be justified by showing that it helps the company achieve its business aims. An example of this would be for health and safety reasons such as having their hair tied back in the food industry. Case where it was being enforced for simply aesthetic reasons it is unlikely that it would be justifiable.

ACAS sets out 4 points that you should consider when implementing a dress code.

  • Employers must avoid unlawful discrimination in any dress code policy
  • Employers may have health and safety reasons for having certain standards
  • Dress codes must apply to men and women equally but may have different requirements
  • Reasonable adjustments must be made for disabled people when dress codes are in place.

It is difficult to determine what the award might be if a dress code is found to be discriminatory. The report is keen to give more power to tribunals to apply bigger financial penalties and encourages the government to apply the law more forcefully.

Even greater care has to be taken by employers if they want to set acceptable rules surrounding religious dress – there have been many religious discrimination tribunal cases looking at this, with varying decisions.

A further area that employers may want to consider is their policy on tattoos and piercings. This should be written down in a clear policy so that employees understand the standards to which they are expected to adhere. These policies however, are becoming increasingly rare as employers are adapting to social change and the increase in popularity of tattoos and piercings.

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