Labour Research July 2018

Law Queries

Dress codes

Q. Is it lawful to have a dress code at work?

A. It’s not unlawful for an employer to introduce a dress code at work. However, there may be provisions in a dress code that amount to unlawful discrimination under the Equality Act 2010 (EA10).

For example, there may be sex discrimination issues if an employer stipulates that a female employee must wear high heels, make-up, revealing clothing and hair of a particular style. This is because it is arguable that such requirements involve treating women less favourably than men.

There may also be health and safety implications. For example, a requirement to wear high heels may result in injury. In addition, there may be disability discrimination issues. Under the EA10, there is a duty for employers to implement reasonable adjustments for disabled employees. 

There may be aspects of a dress code that require adjustment for disabled employees, and a failure to do so may be unlawful.

A dress code could also give rise to discrimination issues where religious symbols are banned and where transgender employees are prevented from wearing clothes to match their gender identity.

Recent guidance from the Government Equalities Office, Dress codes and sex discrimination: what you need to know, suggests “consulting with employees and trade unions over any proposed dress code or changes to an existing code”.