The EAT has upheld the tribunal's decision in Dansie v Metropolitan Police that the Metropolitan Police did not discriminate against a male trainee police officer by requiring him to cut his shoulder-length hair in order to comply with the police force's dress code.

The police force requires trainee officers to comply with a dress code policy, which states that the "standard of dress should be smart, fit for purpose and portray a favourable impression of the service". It was accepted that a female police officer would not have been required to cut her hair under the code. However the EAT concluded that, overall, the code was equally balanced between the sexes. A female comparator who failed to comply with the conditions of the code would have been treated in the same way; that is, she would have been required to comply with the policy.

The EAT held that a difference in treatment under a particular provision of a dress code does not necessarily result in more favourable treatment to members of one sex. The correct legal test is whether, as a whole, a policy which requires a level of smartness in line with the requirements of the relevant profession and conventional standards, causes either sex to be treated less favourably as a result of its enforcement.

Impact on employers

The decision provides welcome confirmation that as long as, on balance, a dress code does not favour one sex, a difference in treatment under a particular provision will not constitute sex discrimination. Provided employers take a fair-minded and proportionate approach, the overall balance of equal treatment will be maintained.