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A client has contacted me for advice on implementing a workplace dress code. A particular requirement they want to include is for their staff to be clean-shaven. Can they include this, or is it a step too far?

As a starting point, employers can usually choose their own dress code but there are common pitfalls to avoid when putting this into practice.

Health and safety considerations

When creating their dress code policy, your client should consider the purpose behind the policy, and the ultimate aim that they are hoping to achieve, such as protecting employees’ health and wellbeing, or promoting the organisation’s image and brand reputation.

It has been announced recently that Police Scotland will ban all frontline officers from having a moustache or beard later this month to better protect staff when wearing PPE. The clean-shaven policy will apply to all frontline officers to enhance their health and safety when wearing a FFP3 face mask, which is face-fitted and requires users to be clean-shaven.

It is reported that hundreds of police officers and frontline staff will have to shave off their facial hair to comply with the policy. Four of the affected staff are reported to be considering legal action.

Exceptions will be granted for those who cannot shave for religious, cultural, disability or medical grounds. Police Scotland is looking to provide an alternative type of respiratory protection for employees who cannot/refuse to follow the policy for any of these reasons.

Discrimination issues
Your client should be aware of the risk of indirect discrimination claims when implementing a similar policy to Police Scotland. Indirect discrimination occurs when there is a provision, criterion or practice (PCP) that an employer applies to all staff, such as a dress code policy, but the application of the policy disproportionately disadvantages a group of people because of their protected characteristic, such as their sex, religion or belief, or a disability.

Your client will have a defence if they are able to objectively justify the policy. Objective justification means showing a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim; this means identifying the aim of the policy and ensuring that there was no less discriminatory method for achieving that aim.

It is important that your client meets with any employees who object to the policy to discuss their reasons for refusal, consider what exceptions can be permitted and any alternative measures that can be put in place to achieve the aim of the policy.

Implementing a dress code policy
Unless related to a regulatory requirement, such as PPE, there are no specific laws governing appropriate attire. As such, your client is free to choose what they deem to be reasonable, as long as what is required is non-discriminatory and subject to any regulatory requirements.

It is advisable to have equivalent rules for men and women, to avoid the risk of sex discrimination claims. For example, implementing a policy that asks all employees to follow a business or professional dress code, such as a two-piece suit.

Your client’s dress code should clearly set out the standards expected of employees when at their place of work and while they are representing the organisation visiting third parties outside the business. A well-thought-out dress code can be a great boost to your client’s business image and make it stand out from the competition.

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