Workplace dress codes

Workplace dress codes

Workplace dress codes have become a hot topic in the news over the last few months. One of the most prominent stories, that is leading the way for a challenge to work place dress codes, is that of an agency worker in London.

The worker in question was working front of house at PWC when she was told by her agency to go home, without pay. Their reason for sending her home was that she refused to wear high heeled shoes. 

The worker’s agency imposed a dress code on their female staff, which included requirements like:

  • Non-opaque tights;
  • No visible roots in hair;
  • Make-up to be regularly re-applied at work; and
  • Heels to be worn with a heel height of 2-4 inches.

As a result of this action by the agency the female worker started a petition which has gone on to galvanise opinion on the enforcement of specific corporate dress codes for women.

Members of Parliament have since debated a ban on mandatory workplace dress codes that impose specific obligations on female employees and workers, like those listed above, that are inapplicable to men.  The debate is non-binding but the government has confirmed that it will take action to rule out any codes that are applicable to a specific gender.

So what should employers consider when writing a dress code for their employees?

Dress codes can be appropriate in certain working environments, but can be discriminatory if imposed unequally on one sex or the other. For example, it could be appropriate to have a strict dress code to comply with health and safety or food hygiene requirements,

Employers should always apply a reasoned approach to any dress code that they seek to impose. It is acceptable to have slight differences for men and women, e.g men are to wear a tie and woman are to wear business attire, as long as the code facilitates an equal standard of dress between the genders.

Beyond just gender a dress code must not be discriminatory in respect of the other protected characteristics in the Equality Act 2010 for age, disability, gender reassignment, religion or belief, or sexual orientation and it is important that any dress code should be created with these in mind.

If you would like some advice on this or any other employment law issue, please get in touch with our Employment Law team by calling 0330 0945500, emailing or completing our Contact Form and we'll get back to you.