The Government Equalities Office has recently issued guidance for employers on dress codes and sex discrimination.

This comes as a result of a joint enquiry carried out by the House of Commons Petitions Committee and the Women and Equalities Committee, which recommended that the government review the law relating to workplace dress codes. This was prompted by a petition lodged by Nicola Thorp, who was sent home without pay by her agency for failing to wear high heels, a requirement set out in the agency's dress code.

There are a number of reasons why employers might require employees to comply with a dress code, for example:

  • To project a professional image
  • For health and safety reasons
  • For hygiene reasons
  • To implement a uniform so that employees are easily identified by customers
  • To restrict clothing that might cause offence

It is important for employers to think about whya dress code is being implemented and whether the particular restrictions can be justified. This will help if an employee needs to be disciplined for failing to comply; and can also help defend allegations of discrimination.

The guidance encourages employers to consider these issues, particularly whether their dress code is potentially discriminatory. It advises employers to "avoid gender-specific requirements", noting that a requirement to wear make-up or high heels is likely to be discriminatory. It also reminds employers that although dress codes don't have to be identical for men and women, "equivalent standards" should be imposed.

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