Dress codes and discrimination claims

By Nabila Mallick

Dress codes in the workplace are not uncommon. Most employers have a certain standard of dress in the workplace, whether enforced through contractual terms or through customary practices. More recently, we have seen informal advice given by senior solicitors to new female recruits at Berwin Leighton. The advice was addressed specifically at women. 

Dress codes can give rise to a number of different types of claims. For example, a Jewish man may feel discriminated against by the restriction on headwear such that he is not permitted to wear his skull cap, a Muslim woman because she can not wear a head cover or body wrap in the workplace or a non-religious woman told that she must wear a high-collar blouse and a skirt not too high above her knee. Then there are more complicated cases where transgender persons may wish to wear skirts of a certain length that allow them to feel more feminine but make others feel uncomfortable by what is exposed. The problem with uniform dress codes for the employer is that you may not be able to apply the policy in a uniform way.

Sex discrimination claims challenging the imposition of a dress codes seem to favour the employer. In Denise v Metropolitan Police Department (2013), a male trainee police officer, had shoulder-length hair, which he kept in a bun. The police force distinguished between men and women, where men were required to wear their hair short and women were required to wear theirs in a bun. The male trainee was asked to cut his hair. He brought a claim for indirect sex discrimination…

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