Home Office code
The Telegraph published a report this week indicating that the Home Office had banned its immigration officers from rocking an “unshaven or stubble appearance”. Beards and moustaches however remain fair game. The dress code guidance, which applies to those in public facing roles, also dictates that those who wish to grow a beard must do so at a time which minimises the period for which they present an unprofessional image. How does one achieve that? Fair enough for those who can spring a beard overnight. However slightly harder for the likes of myself who needs a good month to get a few wisps.
Is the policy enforceable?
Employers are entitled to give lawful instructions to their staff. A uniform policy or dress code will often place various appearance based obligations on employees. Provided that the rules are not discriminatory, the policy is likely to be enforceable.
The most common risk is indirect discrimination – this applies where the employer imposes a provision, criterion or practice (a work rule) on the whole staff and that rule has the effect of placing a particular group of employees at a disadvantage. If the disadvantage is caused by a protected characteristic (e.g. religious beliefs), that would be indirect discrimination. A classic example is a requirement for all men to be clean shaven. This potentially indirectly discriminates against men of a particular faith which requires them to wear a beard.
Indirect discrimination can be justified if the employer can show that the rule (e.g. the dress code) is a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim. For example, in one case a nurse was ordered not to wear a crucifix outside of her uniform. She raised a claim for discrimination however the employer’s legitimate health and safety reasons for not permitting jewellery justified their policy. The employer was able to defend its actions.
If you are an employer facing difficulties with men refusing to ditch the designer stubble, take advice.
Having a clear written guidance for staff as to the rules concerning appearance is a crucial platform before reaching for the razor of the disciplinary procedure.
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