New guidance on dress codes and sex discrimination

27 June 2018

Following a recommendation from the Parliamentary Women and Equalities Select Committee and the Petitions Committee, the Government Equalities Offices has published new guidance explaining the law on dress codes in workplaces.

Dress codes can be a legitimate part of an employer’s terms and conditions of employment. The new guidance ‘dress codes and sex discrimination’ is for employers who set dress codes and employees and job applicants who may have to abide by them.

Dress policies for men and women do not have to be identical, but standards imposed should be equivalent. Dress codes must not be a source of harassment by colleagues or customers, for example, women being expected to dress in a provocative manner.

It is best to avoid gender-specific prescriptive requirements, for example, the requirement to wear high heels. Any requirement to wear make-up, skirts, have manicured nails, certain hairstyles or specific types of hosiery is likely to be unlawful.

The Equality Act 2010 (the Act) does not set out specific examples of practices that are unlawful, or definitions of behaviours that are ‘sexist’, ‘racist’ or ‘homophobic’ etc. It sets out the legal framework, including a ban on sex discrimination and harassment, and it is ultimately for the courts to decide whether a practice is unlawful depending on the facts of each case.

Consulting employees and trade unions over any proposed dress code or changes to an existing code will help ensure that the code is acceptable to both the organisation and its staff.

The ‘dress codes and sex discrimination’ guidance includes:

  • Setting a workplace dress code – your responsibilities as an employer

  • Health and safety

  • Reasonable adjustments for disabled employees

  • Transgender staff

  • Dress codes and religious symbols

  • Dress codes – your rights as an employee


Examples and frequently asked questions are also included.