Are Your Dress Code Policies Fair?

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The Government Equalities Offices has published new guidance on Dress Codes and Sex Discrimination.

Dress policies for men and women do not have to be identical. However, the standards imposed should be equivalent for both male and female employees. Any less favourable treatment because of sex could be direct discrimination.

It is advisable to avoid gender specific prescriptive requirements. For example, any requirement to wear make-up, have manicured nails, wear hair in certain styles or to wear specific types of hosiery or skirts is likely to be unlawful, assuming there is no equivalent requirement for men.

Dress codes must not lead to harassment by colleagues or customers, so any requirements on employees to dress in a provocative manner are likely to be unlawful on those grounds. 

It also includes a reminder that reasonable adjustments may need to be made to dress codes for disabled employees and clarifies that transgender employees should be allowed to follow the organisation's dress code in a way which they feel matches their gender identity. 

Whilst this new guidance is a helpful step in clarifying the law in this area, it doesn't give as much detail as many were hoping for and there is still quite a lot of ambiguity. It also falls short of imposing stricter penalties on employers who enforce a discriminatory dress code, despite this being recommended following the PWC "high heels" case of 2016. 

For further advice on dress code policies, or to discuss a bespoke equality training course for your company, please contact the Starford team on 01342 347063 or email