Dressed to impress: the workplace dimension

18 Sep 2014

Amongst the recent raft of new Guides from ACAS is one relating to dress codes and appearance in the workplace.

There isn’t any recent new case law in this area, but the issues of tattoos and body piercings in particular are exercising some employers.  For instance, we have recently advised various businesses on these issues, from professional service firms and estate agents to manufacturers, both in the context of recruitment as well as day to day working arrangements.

Many employers are keen to portray a corporate image that is a manifestation of their professionalism and quality. For any member of staff who might come into contact with a customer or client, personal presentation is often seen as a key part of this.

Those in HR will recognise the need to take account of the Equality Act 2010, particularly in relation to the protected characteristics of religion and belief. What is less straight-forward is where the law doesn’t give a clear answer, but sets a competing set of expectations.

While employers feel that they should have control over how their staff present themselves, many employees feel that part of their individuality as a human being is not something which they should have to compromise.

There may be a generational dimension here: one statistic readily quoted relates to the  low percentage (c. 5%) of those over 60 with tattoos, compared with a far higher percentage of younger people – it is said that possibly as many as half those in their 20's have some tattoo or other body art.

Will this give rise to a rash of indirect age discrimination claims from employees and job applicants arguing that dress and appearance codes are unlawful discrimination?  I very much doubt it.

However, what is causing greater concern is the fact that younger staff feel that it is an invasion of their personal lives to ask questions about body art, and that it is a bridge too far when their employer tells them that they must cover up.

Again, it is unlikely that there will be a substantial number of successful claims brought on the basis that an individual’s right to a personal life is being interfered with.

However, those employers actively seeking to connect with a younger audience – whether employees or customers – may find themselves pressured into reviewing their absolutist policies.  A measured approach following consultation with staff is likely to help introduce a more sustainable policy.

Further reading

Commercial landlords face extended restrictions

Blog, Legal Updates
18/06/2021
Landlords take another hit as tenants’ protection mandated to last two years; Lawrence Morley takes a look
Read more Read

New Homes Quality Code – consultation under way

Blog, Legal Updates
14/06/2021
Now is the time for housing developers to contribute to the discussion about new quality code
Read more Read

Is changing terms of employment about to become more difficult?

Blog
10/06/2021
Employers beware. It may become more difficult to change terms of employment through the process of dismissal and re-engagement or “fire and rehire”.
Read more Read

Is the menopause really a business issue?

Blog
04/06/2021
Abigail Maino explores the extent to which employers should be supporting employees who may be struggling with symptoms of the menopause
Read more Read
  • Brighton Office

    1 Jubilee Street

    Brighton

    East Sussex

    BN1 1GE

  • Gatwick Office

    Griffin House

    135 High Street

    Crawley

    West Sussex

    RH10 1DQ

  • Guildford Office

    Wonersh House

    The Guildway

    Old Portsmouth Road

    Guildford

    Surrey

    GU3 1LR

  • Horsham Office

    Ridgeland House

    15 Carfax

    Horsham

    West Sussex

    RH12 1DY

  • London Office

    6 New Street Square

    New Fetter Lane

    London

    EC4A 3BF

  • Get in touch