Kate Brooks

Partner, Solicitor & Head of Employment/HR Services

DATE PUBLISHED: 13 Jan 2021 LAST UPDATED: 01 Nov 2022

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

We very often hear about the various rules and regulations surrounding women’s clothing at work, and there have been a huge number of cases brought by women in relation to sexual discrimination. Having said this, the issue around men’s clothing is more of a taboo subject which is far less common.

A Discrimination Case Against Boots

A male employee for Boots distribution 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 roughly the same length as the clothing being worn by women in the office, however, his manager informed him that he was 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 with the above reasoning.

The Outcome?

The Employment Tribunal Judge questioned whether or not the dress code policy was consistently applied to both male and female employees. After hearing evidence, the Judge concluded that women were being 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 and ruled in his favour.

How to recognise discrimination in the workplace?

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

All discrimination legislation is contained in the Equality Act 2010 and Tribunals have the power to award unlimited compensation in discrimination claims.

What is an employment dress code?

Dress codes can be and usually are a legitimate part of an employer’s policies, under the condition that a dress code does not discriminate between different groups of 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 for either group. The dress code must not lead to discrimination of gender or 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 example, ask employees to ‘dress smartly’
  • Consult with employees, staff organisations 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 organisation’s dress code in a way which they feel matches their gender identity
  • 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

Below are some helpful tips for employees when considering a dress code. As an employee, if you believe your employer’s dress code is discriminatory in any manner, it is recommended that you 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 employer’s HR representative, or your trade union representative or seek further 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 result 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.

Need further advice and guidance?

If you have any queries or wish to discuss any issues you may be facing further, please do not hesitate to get in touch with 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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