Employers can require that a certain dress code is adhered to in their work place for reasons such as the type of corporate image they wish to present or for safety and hygiene purposes. However it is important to be mindful of potential discriminatory issues that can arise and lead to claims under equality legislation which prohibits discrimination in the workplace on grounds of gender, civil status, family status, race, religion, age, disability, sexual orientation and membership of traveling community.
Direct discrimination occurs when a person is treated less favorably than another person because they fall within one of the nine categories and indirect discrimination occurs where the same rule is applied to all employees but puts members of one of the nine categories at a disadvantage.
The following points should be considered when introducing a dress code:
- Is it for a valid business purpose?
- Does it apply more heavily to one gender than the other?
- Can any differences in how people are treated be justified on non -discriminatory grounds?
In practice employers must be able to demonstrate that any restrictions imposed are reasonable. For example in a case in the UK it was accepted that it was reasonable for a school to require a Muslim teacher to remove her veil as her pupils could not hear her properly and the requirement was not based on religious beliefs and therefore not discriminatory.
In another Irish case (EED0314 28/10/2003) involving a male retail worker who was dismissed for not wearing a face mask after he refused to shave off his beard, the Labour Court accepted that being required to wear a face mask interfered with his right to determine his appearance to a greater degree than was imposed on his female colleagues who were not required to cover their head hair at work.