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Sex Discrimination And Dress Codes at Work

By Senior Associate, Employment Law

What are employers allowed to ask for in terms of dress and appearance in the workplace?

 

The answer is that it really depends upon the workplace and the context and the occupational requirements of the job.

The relevant factors are:

  • Occupational requirements
  • Health and safety
  • Corporate image

For example, if you work in a construction site, long trousers and a hardhat might be a required and this would be considered a reasonable requirement.  If you are in a corporate environment, for example in an office, then smart, formal clothes, tidy hair, tattoos covered and piercings removed could all be considered reasonable requirements.

Protected Characteristics

Your employer cannot discriminate against you on the basis of any protected characteristics.

Protected characteristics include:

  • Gender
  • Race
  • Religious or non-religious beliefs

Dress Code

Your employer can differentiate between men and women in relation to the dress code, but they must be very careful in doing so. For example, if a dress code requires you to dress smartly and have a corporate image, it should not translate to mean that women should wear short, tight skirts and high heels.

It is difficult to think of any legitimate reason or occupational requirement for wearing make-up, unless you are an actor or model.

Employers should certainly not be making any derogatory comments about your dress or appearance.

What to do if Asked to Dress ‘Sexier’ at Work

If you are being asked by your work to dress in a way that that you are not comfortable with there are a range of options you could take.

Firstly, you should have a look at the dress code policy. This will help you to determine what your employers expectations are of you on paper.

Secondly, have a chat with your line manager. If your line manager is responsible for the comments then you could approach HR instead for advice on what to do.

There are also other forms of guidance. For example, ACAS have a guide on dress codes and appearance at work.

You can make an official complaint through your employer’s grievance policy and if needs be talk to a discrimination lawyer.

If you have suffered gender discrimination at work, call Slater and Gordon Lawyers and ask to speak with a Work Discrimination Solicitor. Call us on freephone 0800 916 9060 or contact us and we will call you.

 Josephine Van Lierop is an associate employment solicitor with Slater and Gordon Lawyers in London.

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