Kate Brooks

Partner, Solicitor & Head of Employment/HR Services

DATE PUBLISHED: 13 Jan 2021 LAST UPDATED: 23 May 2022

Employer Dress Code – Should Men be allowed to wear shorts at work?

We often hear about the rules and regulations surrounding women’s clothing at work and there have been many cases brought by women in relation to sex discrimination, however, the issue around men’s clothing is more of a taboo subject.

A Boots distribution male employee recently brought a claim in the Employment Tribunal as he was reprimanded for wearing three-quarter length shorts on a hot summer’s day. It is reported that the employee’s female colleagues were allowed to wear clothing above the ankles such as leggings, jogging bottoms and skirts but Boots’ dress code at the time stated that ‘shorts could not be worn’.

The male in question wore shorts which were the same length as the clothing worn by women, however, his manager informed him not to wear shorts and that, “he didn’t want to see him in shorts tomorrow”. The male employee claimed that he was being discriminated against due to his gender.

The Employment Tribunal Judge questioned whether or not the dress code policy was consistently applied to male and female employees. After hearing evidence, the Judge concluded that women were given a greater degree of discretion in regard to the dress code than men. The Judge found that the male employee was directly discriminated against because of his gender.

What is discrimination?

Discrimination is the unfair or prejudicial treatment of people and groups based on a protected characteristic such as race, gender, age or sexual orientation.

What is a dress code?

Dress codes can be a legitimate part of an employer’s policies. It is important that a dress code does not discriminate between different groups of t employees. That being said, a dress code does not have to treat men and women identically. The standards and rules just need to be equivalent and not amount to less favourable treatment. The dress code must not lead to discrimination of gender and must not lead to harassment (i.e. any requirements on women to dress in a provocative manner).

Tips for Employers

We have outlined below some tips for employers when considering imposing a dress code:-

  • Avoid gender specific prescriptive requirements – for examples ask employees to ‘dress smartly’;
  • Consult with employees, staff organisation and/or trade unions to ensure that the code is acceptable to both the Company and staff;
  • Have regard to health and safety implications;
  • Make reasonable adjustments to any elements which place a disabled person at a substantial disadvantage compared to a non-disabled person;
  • Transgender employees should be allowed to follow the organisations dress code in a way which they feel matches their gender identity; and
  • Employers should be flexible and not set dress codes which prohibit religious symbols that do not interfere with an employee’s work.

Tips for Employees

We have outlined below some tips for employees when considering a dress code. As an employee, if you believe your employer’s dress code is discriminatory, speak to your manager in the first instance. If they respond inappropriately (i.e. criticising or penalising you for raising the issue), then you should speak to your employers HR representative, your trade union representative or seek legal advice:-

  • Dress codes must apply to both men and women but may have different requirements so long as they are of a similar standard and applied fairly.
  • It is unlawful for an employer to require women to wear high heels, with the discomfort or health issues that may results from this, and there is no male equivalent.
  • An employee cannot be dismissed or treated badly for bringing a complaint about a sexist dress code.
  • Further information about dress codes and sex discrimination can be found here.

Need advice?

If you have any queries or wish to discuss gender discrimination further, please do not hesitate to contact one of our experienced Employment Lawyers on 01202 525333 for further advice.

How can we help?

When you submit this form an email will be sent to the relevant department who will contact you within 48 hours. If you require urgent advice please call 01202 525333.

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