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Addressing dress codes: ACAS guidance on dress code policy

ACAS have this week issued new guidance on dress code policy at work. The new guidance includes guidance on tattoos and body piercings and religious dress which should be considered when drafting or updating employee dress code policy.

A dress code policy must not unlawfully discriminate and must apply equally to men and women (although standards may differ), and reasonable adjustments must be made for disabled employees.

The new guidance requires employers to have 'sound business reasons' for implementing dress code policies, so it will be important to consider the reasoning behind policies when drafting or updating them. The guidance does not, however, provide employers with any specific examples of 'sound business reasons' (save for health and safety), but sets out key points to consider.

Tattoos and body piercings

The guidance shows some understanding to employers wishing to promote certain image through their employees and specifically states that the employer may request staff remove piercings or cover tattoos whilst at work to promote such images. Employers must, however, have a business reason for doing so and any such requirements should be stated in a policy and communicated to all staff to ensure understanding of the standards expected of their employees.

Religious dress

The area of religious dress should be treated carefully. Employers should allow employees to wear such clothing as required by their religious faith and will need to justify any reasons for prohibiting staff from wearing any items of clothing to ensure that they are not indirectly discriminating employees wishing to reflect their religious faith in their clothing choices. Restrictions as to clothing will, as before, need to be for a sound 'business reason.' Recent legal decisions on religious dress have stated that people should be allowed to demonstrate their religious faith through their dress. The "Crucifix Case" heard in the European Court of Human Rights in January 2013 is a good example of this and suggests that employers should allow employees the right to wear religious dress unless there is a valid business reason stating otherwise.

See the ACAS Guidance on Religion or belief and the workplace for further information.

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