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ACAS Guidance on Dress Codes

Oct 29, 2014

ACAS has issued new guidance on dress codes and appearance in the work place. It sets out the areas which employers should focus on when drafting their dress codes and focusses on tattoos, piercings and religious dress.

There are a number of reasons for having a dress code, be it to convey a sense of professionalism to clients or for health and safety purposes. Whatever the reason, all dress codes should be reasonable in nature and necessary for a particular job, for example, to convey a corporate image and ensure that customers can identify staff easily.

The ACAS guidance encourages employers to consider certain points when drafting their dress code. For example, employers must avoid unlawful discrimination in any dress code policy; they must have health and safety reasons for having certain standards; must treat men and women equally and must ensure that reasonable adjustments are made for disabled employees under the Equality Act 2010.

The guidance acknowledges that an employer is likely to have a different dress code for men and women and whilst the dress code should apply equally the standards may be different, for example, the policy may state “business dress” for women but may state that “men must wear a tie”.

Religious Dress
Employees are entitled to wear articles of clothing or jewellery which represents their religious faith, but this right is not absolute. A distinction can be made between items that are required as part of that person’s faith as opposed to a symbol of that persons faith. Where such item may compromise health and safety regulations, it would not be unreasonable to ban the. For example, a necklace which may catch when operating machinery.

Where employers do choose to ban certain items, they should ensure this is for a genuine business or safety requirement, to prevent accusations of direct or indirect discrimination.

Tattoos and Piercings
It is common for employers to ask their staff to remove piercings or cover tattoos whilst at work. Although it is unlikely to be covered by discrimination law, it could be relevant to a question of fairness, particularly in the case of a dismissal.

Employers must ensure that they have a clear written policy which is applied consistently. This means that if there is an outright ban on all visible tattoos and piercings, if an employee has previously been dismissed for having a visible tattoo, the employer needs to be prepared to do the same if their best performing employee turns up for work with multiple face piercings.


Gary Smith

About the author

Gary Smith

Gary joined Nockolds in 2007 and is a Partner in our Employment Law Team. Before joining the firm Gary studied law at the University of Kent. ...

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