An employer can include an express term in the contract of employment outlining the dress code that employees have to adhere to. There is however a necessity that the reasons for imposing a dress code is fair, consistent and above all non-discriminatory.
In a recent controversy where Nicola Thorp, a receptionist at PwC, was sent home after refusing to wear high heels, was informed on her first day at the well-known corporate finance company that she has to wear shoes with a “2in to 4in” heel. She was informed that her ‘smart’ flat shoes were inappropriate and not in line with the dress code guidelines.
She has since launched a petition calling for the law to be changed so companies can no longer force women to wear high heels to work. It has so far received more than 11,000 signatures.
Thorp, who was employed as a temporary worker by PwC’s outsourced reception firm Portico, who said it set the uniform rules for staff but would review its guidelines.
As a result of this controversy it is strongly recommended that employers review their dress code/policy. A dress code is more likely to be enforceable if the employer can show that it is necessary and reasonable having regard to the functions undertaken by the employee.
It is also likely that employers will be able to provide reasonable justification for imposing a dress code on the basis that it is necessary for health and safety, such as hard hats on a building site. Although it is important to note that the Race Relations Act 1976 and the Religion and Belief Regulations 2003 exempt Sikhs who wear turbans on a construction site from having to wear a safety helmet.
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