Could Your Dress Code Put You at Risk of an Employment Tribunal?

A British Airways employee who won a high-profile legal case about the right to wear a silver cross at work has claimed to be a victim of management bullying following her return to work. Nadia Eweida, who previously won a case for religious discrimination in the European Court of Human Rights has, once again, attracted widespread coverage of her situation and highlights the importance to all employers of having a legally compliant dress code.

Most care providers specify a dress code for staff whilst at work and include this in their in-house policies. In most cases, this relates to the wearing of uniform but it may also cover how non-clinical staff dress or set out expectations in relation to the wearing of jewellery or the presence tattoos.

However, in response to the questions raised by the Nadia Eweida case and others, ACAS has published helpful guidance that you can use to ensure that your dress code is legal, non-discriminatory and avoids the potential pitfalls that could lead to you being subject to a potentially expensive and unnecessary legal case.

Read on to find out about the ACAS guidance and how you can ensure your dress code is legally compliant.


Developing a dress code may seem straightforward but ACAS recommends that employers adhere to 4 key principles when setting standards for employees:

  1. Employers must avoid unlawful discrimination in any dress code policy.
  2. Employers may have health and safety reasons for having certain standards.
  3. Dress codes must apply to both men and women equally, although they may have different requirements.
  4. Reasonable adjustments must be made for disabled people when dress codes are in place.

4 Steps to Setting a Safe and Legally Compliant Dress Code 

  1. Set clear expectations: Your policy should clearly set out what you consider to be a reasonable standard of dress and Your dress code should be non-discriminatory and must apply to both male and female staff equally. However, standards can be different, for example, a policy may require ‘business dress’ for women but may state that men ‘must wear a tie’.
  2. Include guidance on tattoos and piercings: You may wish to promote a particular image to reflect the ethos and values of your service which requests that staff remove piercings or cover tattoos while at work. Even if you believe you have a good business reason for this, you should consider your reasons carefully as you must have sound justification for requiring such a dress code. Your requirements should then be written down in a policy available to all staff so they are clear about your expectations.
  3. Respect religious requirements: You may have staff from a range of religions and cultures with styles of dress that do not always meet your standard dress code. Remember to tread carefully in this area as your code should allow employees to wear items of clothing etc. that are significant to their faith. You will need to justify the reasons for banning such items and should ensure they are not indirectly discriminating against your staff.
  4. Plan for exceptions: Your staff may wish to support nominated charities which involve exceptions to your usual dress code rules, such as Jeans for Genes Day but should be aware of the need to seek the support of a manager before going ahead in order to ensure that there is no conflict with your policy.

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