The case of Riam Dean and Abercrombie & Fitch's 'look policy' was plastered across every newspaper …"Victory for shopgirl who refused to hide" (The Independent); "The young student with a prosthetic arm who took on - and beat - a global fashion giant" (The Daily Mail) and "One armed worker beats Abercrombie & Fitch'' (The London Paper).
Dean, a law student who had a prosthetic arm, was prevented from working on the shop floor of Abercrombie & Fitch ("A&F") clothing chain because her false arm was contrary to its 'look policy' and deemed unsavoury by its creepily named 'visual team'. She was initially recruited with special permission to wear a cardigan to cover her false arm but was then told that the cardigan did not adhere to the company's dress code and she could no longer work on the shop floor. Dean took her case to Tribunal and was awarded £9,000 for unlawful harassment for a reason related to her disability, A&F's failure to comply with its duty to make reasonable adjustments and wrongful dismissal.
As well as being headline-grabbing, this case is relevant to all employers whose staff are client/customer facing. Any policies such as dress codes, which may impact on the image that employees are required to project to the public must be balanced against the impact those policies will have on the employee's dignity and any potential breaches of discrimination law.
It is almost always better to take preventative steps to avoid a claim than to manage a crisis, therefore you should be considering matters such as your recruitment policies. It is also helpful to ensure that procedures in staff handbooks are complied with consistently and individual cases dealt with sensitively. Remember to give some consideration as to how you will handle any harassment or hostile reactions from colleagues or third parties such as clients, customers or suppliers. Finally, try and resist the temptation to make knee jerk reactions, step back and consider whether your decisions are reasonable and whether all alternatives have been considered. This is of course universal advice for all employment issues!