When does a dress code become discriminatory?

By August 7, 2018Advice, Discrimination

A former British Airways worker has said the company’s dress code is discriminatory after he was sacked for having a man bun hairstyle.


Sid Ouared, 26, was dismissed because his hair did not conform to British Airways’ uniform standards.


He said: “It’s ridiculous in 2018. There are more and more men that have the same hairstyle as me. There’s 100% sexism going on.”


Many organisations have dress codes to portray a certain image or so customers can easily identify them, while some have them for health and safety reasons.


BA’s dress code states that men’s hair must not fall over the face or touch the shirt collar. Ponytails are only acceptable for men with dreadlocks.


Women have their own requirements regarding hairstyles, including a ban on close-shaven hair, along with rules on hosiery, make-up and skirt length.


What would make a dress code discriminatory?

Employers must ensure that their dress code does not put a certain group at a disadvantage, as per the Equality Act 2010.


Any dress code should be non-discriminatory and should apply to both men and women equally. Standards can be different, for example a policy may state “business dress” for women but may state for men “must wear a tie”.


This would make BA’s rule regarding Ouared’s man bun fair, as women also have to adhere to certain rules regarding hair.


There is also a precedent from a similar case. In Dansie v Commissioner of Police for the Metropolis, an Employment Appeal Tribunal held that the employer did not treat a male trainee officer less favourably when he wanted to wear his long hair in a bun, rather than meet the requirement for men to have short hair.


It argued that this was not discriminatory, as the force would have treated a woman in a comparable situation the same way.


Tips for a fair dress code

  • Always consider whether there is a legitimate reason for asking employees to dress a certain way.

  • If so, ensure that there are equivalent rules in place for both sexes.

  • Employers are advised to allow groups or individual employees to wear articles of clothing that manifest their religious faith. A uniform could be varied slightly; for example, at the Trooping of the Colour a Sikh guardsman wore a turban and a smartly-trimmed beard instead of the usual bearskin hat.

  • Banning religious items will require careful and legitimate justification, for example for safety reasons.

  • With piercings and tattoos, employers may wish to promote a certain image to reflect the ethos of their organisation. Sometimes this can mean that they ask workers to remove piercings or cover tattoos while at work, especially when dealing with customers. However, in recent years this stance has softened considerably.

  • In hot weather, dress codes can be relaxed at the employer’s discretion to make things more comfortable depending on the nature of the work.

  • Dress code policies should be communicated to employees and located somewhere easy to find, such as in the employee handbook.

To learn more about dress codes or discrimination, call a Deminos advisor on 020 7870 1090.

Author David Ralph

More posts by David Ralph

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