Employee dress codes have made headlines again, this time with a hospital porter being suspended for rolling up his trousers to cope with the heat on the hottest day of the year.
This follows on from the parliamentary inquiry in January, which launched in response to an online petition calling for it to be illegal for a company to require its staff to wear high heels. You can read our earlier Insight on the topic here.
Much like requiring women to wear high heels at work, forcing men to wear long trousers in the summer months, when women are free to wear skirts and dresses, could be considered a discriminatory practice under the Equality Act 2010.
In response to the porter’s suspension, GMB union has threatened that it would tell other porters to wear dresses to work in protest, if he is not reinstated. There have been similar protests relating to school uniforms; boys at a school in Exeter wore skirts in protest to the requirement that they wear long trousers and were successful in changing the uniform code for the next academic year.
It is a timely reminder that employers should consider the implications of requiring their staff to wear particular clothing when there is no particular reason for doing so. Although it is possible to apply different dress code standards to male and female employees, for example men may be required to wear a tie when women aren’t, the standards applied must be a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim.
Requiring male employees to wear long trousers as part of health and safety concerns or because of a ‘corporate image’ may be sufficient reasons to counter a discrimination argument, but employers should be ready to justify their requirements, especially for those whose work requires them to be physically active.