There has been a lot of discussion in the press again today about dress codes at work.

This subject came to prominence recently when a woman was reportedly sent home from her job as a receptionist for refusing to comply with a dress code. She was required to wear two to four inch heels. She refused and then noticed that other women in the same organisation doing a different role did not have the same dress code and there was no equivalent dress code for men.

This case demonstrates one of the dangers for employers when operating a dress code that might be seen as unfair, inappropriate or discriminatory.

So what does the law allow employers to do without being unfair or discriminatory?

The law allows a business to have a dress code provided that it is not more onerous for one gender, so this applies to both men and women. Men often complain that in the hot weather they have to wear a tie but there is no equivalent for women who can wear looser fitting light clothes. The code should be enforced consistently on men and women. A dress code which required a man to wear a shirt and tie but women only to dress appropriately and to a similar standard will not necessarily be unlawful discrimination if the dress code was fair to both sexes.

If a transsexual person is prevented from wearing a skirt, where other women would be permitted to, this could amount to direct discrimination because of gender reassignment. When drafting a dress code you should consider items of clothing or jewellery which is associated with their religious beliefs, such as a veil or a cross as a ban on these items can also be indirectly discriminatory.

What to consider when drafting a dress code.

When drafting a dress code you should consider how this might impact on disabled people and if there is a risk of disability discrimination. If your dress code is a disadvantage to a disabled person compared to a non-disabled person, there will be a duty to make reasonable adjustments to seek to remove the disadvantage.

Before imposing a dress code ACAS recommend that the employer consults with the work force and considers any objections that they may have.

Before imposing or when reviewing a dress code you should consider the business reasons for having one and how this will impact on all of your staff and whether the code applies fairly to different sections of the work force. You should and be flexible with the requirements but still seek to achieve the business.

If you receive a request from an employee stating that they cannot adhere to the dress code you should carefully consider the reasons and balance this against the objectives of the dress code and consider what can be done that is in the best interest of the business and the employees. It is a balancing act!