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Dress Code - Tattoos and Piercings, Personal Taste or Business Requirement?

It is accepted that many employers will have a dress code, some require a uniform to communicate a corporate image and ensure customers can easily identify them. Others may cite health and safety as a reason for certain attire, such as health workers not wearing jewellery. But what if the employer simply does not want its receptionist wearing body piercings or visible tattoos?

ACAS provides some basic rules should be kept in mind when formulating a Corporate Dress Code and objecting to any individual's supposed right to express themselves, namely;

  • Employer's must avoid unlawful discrimination in any Dress Code Policy
  • There may be health and safety reasons for applying certain standards
  • The Dress Code must apply to men and women equally, although there may be different requirements
  • Reasonable adjustments must be made for disabled people when dress codes are in place.

Employers may for instance require workers tie their hair back for hygiene reasons if they work in a kitchen. If they wish to have a general dress standard, then care should be taken to ensure there is no discrimination, although it can be applied to men and women differently. For example, requiring "business dress" for women, and may state "men must wear a tie". 

The code should clearly set out the consequence of failing to comply with the obligations, namely that the employee will face disciplinary action as a result.

An employer may simply wish to promote a certain image through their workers, which they believe reflects a certain ethos of their organisation. This may result in employees being unable to wear visible body piercings and/or have tattoos on show in the workplace. Care must however be taken by an employer to ensure that these requirements are based on a genuine business need and consider carefully the reason for the rule, before attempting to implement it. Whilst it may be reasonable for employees who are dealing with clients, the same may not be true for employees who do not have such dealings.

There have been various cases recently involving the wearing of religious items and the attempts of employers to prevent this. Employers should exercise caution in this area and will be required to justify reasons for preventing employees from wearing articles (such as a cross on a Christian) that manifest their personal faith. Any restriction should be a genuine business or safety requirement.

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