Hannah Johnson


DATE PUBLISHED: 06 Feb 2020 LAST UPDATED: 29 Nov 2022

Labour MP’s outfit controversy – who chooses what is appropriate to wear to work?

The outfit that Labour MP Tracy Brabin wore in the House of Commons has sparked controversy and a commentary over the appropriate attire and dress standards. This raises the question of whether dress standards can be imposed in the workplace.

The legal position is that an employer can have a dress code or set requirements for appearance at work only if they can show it is for a legitimate aim. Through case law over the years it has been established and recognised by tribunals that examples include seeking a professional appearance or for health and safety reasons.

Dress codes can be capable of amounting to discrimination on the grounds of protected characteristics detailed under the Equality Act 2010. One example would be sex discrimination where a woman is treated less favourably than a man because she is a woman. This means that employers should be aware of the risks associated with the details of their dress codes, how they enforce them and be aware of whether they are targeting specific employees, whether individuals or groups. Discrimination claims are very risky and can cause a huge amount of reputational damage in light of tribunal judgments now being in the public forum.

I would advise that employers review their current dress code and consider what legitimate aim they are trying to achieve in the event that it is ever challenged by an employee – why and how the look they are seeking to achieve is important. Also, are individuals being singled out or excluded by the requirements, or are any requirements potentially inappropriate or antiquated in the current workplace. The best practice would be to take a flexible approach, especially as workforces are changing and introducing more ‘smart casual’ dress codes.

If you require any information on dress codes, reviewing any current policies or practices or discrimination, please do not hesitate to contact our experienced Employment Lawyers on 01202 525333 for further advice.

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