12 Sep 2018
The recent news story of Serena Williams wearing a catsuit at the French Open, and the subsequent response by the President of the French Tennis Federation, raises the interesting question of whether an employer can mandate what its employees wear to work.
In general terms, an employer is allowed to impose a dress code or uniform policy on its employees. It is perfectly acceptable and legitimate for an employer to require employees to wear a particular style, colour or type of clothing in the workplace provided that the request is reasonable.
It is also legitimate for an employer to enforce their uniform policy if an employee fails to comply with it. A failure to follow lawful instructions in relation to a uniform policy could amount to misconduct.
Exceptions – things to remember
Employers should, however, be careful to make sure that they carefully consider that some employees may have legitimate reasons for deviating from the uniform policy. The employer should make provision for such deviations in the policy. An obvious consideration is health and safety. An example could be that an employee is unable to wear high heels, as mandated by a uniform policy, because of legitimate health complaints.
The other major consideration when designing and implementing a uniform policy is to consider any potential discrimination claims, such as those on the grounds of the protected characteristics of religion or sex. Although a uniform policy may apply to everyone, a claim of indirect discrimination could be brought by an employee if they are adversely affected by the policy compared to a colleague who does not share their protected characteristic.
An employer does have a defence to a discrimination claim if it can show that there was a legitimate reason for imposing the uniform policy. For example, the employer’s policy in the case of a nurse who was not allowed to wear her crucifix to work was held not to be discriminatory as health and safety was a legitimate purpose for the employer to prioritise.
1. Make sure that any uniform policy is clear and reasonable.
2. Make sure that any uniform policy is enforced consistently and properly.
3. Remember to consider legitimate exceptions such as health and safety or potential discrimination claims when creating a uniform policy.
You can find further guidance from ACAS on this issue here.
If you would like advice about creating workplace policies, contact Blackadders’ award-winning Employment team on 01382 229222.