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When an employer may say '' Get yer hair cut ''...

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A recent Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) ruling has clarified the law relating to sex discrimination and dress codes at work and will make it harder for employees to claim successfully for discrimination. In a case brought by a trainee police constable, the EAT ruled that the Metropolitan Police were not guilty of unlawful discrimination just because the detailed dress code rules for men and women were different. What mattered was whether the dress codes for both sexes were broadly similar in their intended effect and whether the sanctions for breach were the same. The employee alleged that he was discriminated against because of his shoulder length hair. When he reported at the police training centre at Hendon, he was told that he must have it cut or face disciplinary action. His argument was his hair was slicked back and tied in a bun at the back of his head and that a woman in the same situation would not have been ordered to have her hair cut. But the EAT held that the dress code had to be looked at as a whole, that if the code required a conventional standard of appearance and neatness, such a requirement was not discriminatory in itself, and that a difference in treatment does not necessarily amount to more favourable treatment of one sex compared with the other. Said employment law expert Alex Dean of Chelmsford based firm Gepp & Sons: "This ruling in Dantsie v Met Police is important because it makes it clear that, although dress codes for men and women at work must be equal, they may be different. The important thing is that the same standard of general appearance must apply - for example, a requirement for conventional smartness - also the treatment of anyone who breaches the rules must be the same. "But beyond that, individual aspects of the code can be applied differently to men and women; so for example a requirement for employees of a merchant bank to dress with conventional smartness could mean that a man wouldn't be allowed to wear a smart dress to work." • For additional information please contact: Alexandra Dean of Gepp & Sons. The above is not legal advice; it is intended to provide information of general interest about current legal issues.