Dress codes have been in the spotlight recently following a ruling in Spain that nurses do not have to wear skirts.
Earlier this year the Spanish Supreme Court upheld a claim brought by female nurses at a Spanish hospital that they should be allowed to wear the same uniform as their male colleagues, i.e. trousers rather than skirts, aprons and caps. The nurses claimed that their employer’s uniform policy was discriminatory and also breached health and safety regulations.
The Court said that although Spanish law grants employers the ability to manage and control their own activities, they have to respect basic human rights (including freedom from unlawful discrimination) and should only treat men and women differently if they can objectively justify doing so. The Court said that the customs of current society are key to evaluating the suitability of an employer’s practices. In this case the Hospital’s uniform policy was “discriminatory” and “belonging to another time” and could not be objectively justified.
This ruling does not mean that employers cannot determine what their staff wear to work. It is still the case that employers can set their own dress codes, provided they do not contravene the discrimination legislation. Employers should be particularly careful not to discriminate on grounds of sex, race, religion or belief etc, as the Spanish Courts are becoming very strict when it comes to enforcing the discrimination legislation.