Last month saw the widely reported incident concerning a female receptionist who was sent home from work after reporting for duty, on her first day in the job, wearing flat shoes. She refused to wear the 2 – 4 inch heels allegedly required by the employer and was asked to leave. The employer said that they would review their personal appearance guidelines, following comments that such a practice could be discriminatory.
Uniform policies/dress codes/personal appearance guidelines (or whatever else you want to call them) throw up a number of employment law considerations. It is not uncommon for employers to impose rules on appearance. There can be a number of potential reasons for this. Maintaining a corporate image and health and safety objectives are among but a few of the reasons.
Be wary of discrimination
Employers are entitled to set required standards of appearance. They are also entitled to enforce these standards, for example, by reference to a disciplinary policy for non-compliance. However, it is necessary to be mindful of certain issues. In particular, employers must not discriminate in setting their “fashion” goal posts. In the scenario reported above, arguably, a requirement for women to wear sexy heels could offend against sex discrimination. A man would not be subjected to the same requirement. In addition, think of the health and safety angle. I’ve never worn a pair of high heels (honestly) but they look very uncomfortable. It is not controversial to suggest that being on your feet all day in high heels could have longer term health implications. Would such a policy give rise to a personal injury claim in the future?
Discrimination issues also arise in the context of employees who dress in a particular way for religious reasons. An employer who wishes to ban certain items of clothing will need to have legitimate business or safety requirements for doing so. For example, in one case, a nurse was not permitted to wear a religious cross on top of her uniform in order to protect the safety of patients. This was held to proportionate and was thus not discriminatory.
ACAS have issued a useful guidance covering some of these issues. It is available here.
If you are unsure of what you can can’t do in relation to workplace attire, take advice.
Associate Solicitor – Employment Law
The opinions expressed in this site are of the author(s) only and do not necessarily represent the opinions of Blackadders LLP.
Blackadders takes all reasonable steps to ensure that the content of this site is accurate and up to date. The site is not, however, intended as a substitute for seeking legal or other professional advice but rather as an informative guide to the services provided by Blackadders and topical legal developments. Site visitors should always seek advice tailored to their specific situation. Consequently, Blackadders accepts no responsibility for any loss or damage suffered by anyone acting or failing to act on the basis of information contained on this site. Downloading of material contained on this site is at the user’s own risk and all necessary virus checks must first be carried out by the user. Blackadders is not responsible for the material found on any web sites linked to this one and links to this site may only be made with Blackadders prior consent.
Blackadders owns the copyright in this blog and all material contained on it. The material on this site may be downloaded for personal use only and must not be altered. Otherwise, Blackadders’ written consent is required before any material on this site is reproduced, copied or transmitted in any way.
Information passed to us via this site is kept confidential and will not be disclosed to third parties except if authorised by you or required by law.
© Blackadders LLP 2011
Members of the Law Society of Scotland. Authorised to conduct Investment Business under the Financial Services & Markets Act 2000 by the Financial Services Authority.
Blackadders Solicitors is a trading name of Blackadders LLP, a limited liability partnership, registered in Scotland No SO301600 whose registered office is 30 & 34 Reform Street, Dundee, DD1 1RJ. Reference to a ‘partner’ is to a member of Blackadders LLP.
Back to News & Legal Updates