Religious dress at work; does my employer have a say?
It is often presumed that dress and appearance in the workplace falls within the parameters of neat, presentable and professional. You may even have a specific uniform that your employer requests that you wear. If you are unsure about what you are permitted to wear to work it is important that you check your employer’s dress and appearance policy. This may be contained within your staff handbook.
But does your dress and appearance policy address whether you are permitted to wear religious garb to the workplace and if so, is this policy legal?
Religion or belief is a protected characteristic under s10 Equality Act 2010. In summary, the Equality Act prohibits discriminatory conduct, harassment and victimisation in relation to the protected characteristics as specified.
Discrimination can be overt or covert and your employer might not realise that their dress and appearance policy may be discriminatory.
If you are treated less favourably by your employer than they would treat others based on your religious dress, this could be direct discrimination.
For example, if your employer does not permit you to properly observe hijab in the workplace, they could be discriminating against you.
If a provision, criterion or practice in the workplace only applies to other people who do not wear the same religious dress as you, or if you are put at a particular disadvantage compared with others based on the fact you wear religious dress to work, then this could be indirect discrimination.
For example, if your employer’s dress policy does not allow you to wear anything on your head, this is a policy that could indirectly discriminate against the wearing of turbans, headscarves and kippots for example.
Proportionate and Legitimate
Your employer needs to be able to demonstrate that their conduct, provision, criterion or practice in the workplace is a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim. If they cannot do so, then you may be a victim of discrimination.
Health and Safety
Legitimate aims in relation to dress and appearance in the workplace often relate to Health and Safety concerns. You and your employer have a duty to take reasonable care of your and others health and safety according to the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974.
You may therefore be required to adhere to your employer’s dress and appearance policy for reasons of Health and Safety so far as is necessary.
Your employer must comply with Health and Safety legislation as far as is reasonably practicable. This does not automatically empower your employer to prohibit you from wearing religious dress to work.
Whether you are an employer or employee, with concerns about what you are allowed to wear to work, having an open and honest conversation is often the best place to start. You may be able to explore reasonable adjustments that can be made to allow religious dress to be worn in the workplace without presenting health and safety concerns.
Your dress and appearance policy may simply need updating to ensure that it respects and supports the religions or beliefs of your employees, all the whilst complying with Health and Safety. ACAS provides a helpful example scenario of what may constitute a discriminatory dress code and guidance into making sure your workplace is inclusive.
At Ellis Jones we carry out free health checks of your Staff Handbook and workplace policies.
If you have any questions, require assistance, or are an employer and would like a free health check of your workplace policies, contact our Employment Law team on 01202 525333 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.