Discriminatory dress codes

Posted: 11th March 2016

EATWomen clearly cannot be expected by employers to dress in the same way as men, or vice versa, and workplace dress codes can thus give rise to discrimination issues. Exactly that happened in one case in which an office worker was dismissed after turning up to work on three occasions wearing jeans.

The man worked in an accounts department where staff were required to dress in an ‘appropriate, smart/casual manner’. He was mildly rebuked on first wearing jeans to work but, on the following two occasions, was sent home to change. He argued that he had been singled out and that female colleagues were permitted to wear leggings, see-through dresses, tracksuit bottoms and even shorts.

He complained that the dress code was discriminatory, referring to the Equality Act 2010, but was ultimately dismissed following a disciplinary process. An Employment Tribunal (ET) later upheld his victimisation claim on the basis that his questioning of the application of the dress code was a protected act which had been a significant contributory factor in the decision to terminate his employment.

In allowing the employer’s appeal,  the Employment Appeal Tribunal ruled that the ET had given inadequate reasons for its decision. There was a ready and complete explanation for the dismissal in the fact that the man had three times come to work knowingly dressed in breach of the dress code. Crucially, the ET had failed to specifically ask itself whether the making of the allegations of sex discrimination was a significant cause of his dismissal. The matter was sent back to the same ET for reconsideration.