High street music retailer, HMV, have reportedly introduced a new "appearance policy" requiring employees to smarten up, or face disciplinary action. The new policy dictates that "high standards of personal grooming" will be expected. Long hair must be tied up and while "discreet" tattoos or piercings will be allowed, the new policy states that "extreme body art" must be removed or covered up. Twitter users have expressed their anger with one user describing the "extreme tattoo" ban as "backwards".

A spokesperson for HMV has made the following statement:

"Media reports on this have been somewhat sensationalised, and we're not trying to ban tattoos or anything else for that matter, but if someone does have extensive body art - whether in-store or at head office, we would expect them to cover this up whilst working… It goes without saying that we want our work colleagues to feel valued as individuals who can express their personalities, but it's also important that we balance this against the needs and expectations of our customers, who, ultimately, have to be at the heart of everything we do."

Whilst the tattoo issue has proved controversial, the more contentious aspect of the policy (as reported) from an employment law perspective is the stipulation that male employees must wear blue denim jeans and female employees must wear denim skirts.

Employers are entitled to set rules regarding staff uniforms and personal appearance.  If, however, there is a requirement or condition that is on the face of it neutral but in effect puts a group with a "protected characteristic" (e.g. females, or individuals of a particular race or religion) at a disadvantage, then it may be indirectly discriminatory.

Female employees might prefer to wear trousers rather than a skirt for personal or religious reasons.  If this breaches their employer's rules on appearance, will the employees be disciplined or dismissed? If so, the employees may well argue that the policy is indirectly discriminatory based on their sex or religion. It will then be for the employer to justify the policy as a proportionate means to achieve a legitimate aim.