Employers ensure dress codes do not discriminate

Nine employers in 10 (89%) that have a dress code in place take steps to ensure that their policy does not discriminate against workers on the grounds of religion or belief.

This is according to the XpertHR dress code survey, which also found that 57% of organisations ensure that there is no reference in their policies to the banning of items that could have a religious association.

Danielle Ingham, employment lawyer at Pinsent Masons, says employers who impose dress restrictions on employees need to be clear about the business reasons for doing so.

In 2010, Christian British Airways (BA) worker Nadia Eweida, who was not allowed to wear a visible crucifix at work, lost her discrimination case against the airline at the Court of Appeal.

BA put Eweida on unpaid leave from her job as a check-in worker at Heathrow in 2006 after she had refused to conceal her cross under her uniform. She claimed that the suspension had discriminated against her, as employees of other religions were allowed to wear faith symbols.

The airline changed its dress code in 2007 to allow workers to display religious symbols and Eweida returned to work.

In order to avoid religious discrimination, many employers opt for a flexible approach to dress codes. Of the 269 dress codes included in the research, one-third are flexible policies that allow for requirements relating to religion or belief.

Nearly one-third of employers also saw fit to consult with employees on their dress codes and one-fifth consulted with legal experts.

Charlotte Wolff, author of the report, commented: “Although only a minority of employers do so, it is helpful to consult with employees or their representatives when drawing up a dress code to get an indication of any potential issues.”

She added that dress and appearance requirements should be set out as broadly as possible to allow flexibility for employees with particular cultural or religious beliefs.

XpertHR provides a good practice guide on religion and belief for employers.

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