Dressing the Part

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The Government Equalities Office has recently published new guidance on dress codes and sex discrimination in the workplace.  This new guidance follows a number of high profile national cases where the appropriateness of certain gender specific dress codes have been called into question.

Whilst it is a reasonable expectation to require employees to adhere to certain standards of dress or personal appearance care should be taken to avoid requirements which are potentially discriminatory.  There are many different ways of achieving a ‘professional look’ and it is advisable to avoid any gender specific requirements within a workplace dress code.

For example, any requirement for female employees to wear make-up, have manicured nails, wear hair in certain styles or to wear specific types of hosiery or skirts is likely to be unlawful, assuming there is no equivalent requirement for men.  

This does not mean dress codes for men and women have to be identical. However, the standards imposed should be equivalent. This means there must be similar or equivalent rules laid down for both male and female employees. Any less favourable treatment because of sex could be direct discrimination.

When setting a dress code employers should also have careful regard for any health and safety implications and be clear about any requirements to wear a uniform or protective clothing. 

Sensitive consideration should also be given to cultural or religious customs which may impact on an employee’s choice of attire.

You can head the Government’s Guidance document here

Many schools choose to set out their expectations regarding professional dress within their  code of conduct. You can find example text for a dress code within our model code of conduct which can be accessed here.